Appliance Bolsters Cisco Data Center Strategy
Cisco, making a big bet based on the need to more swiftly provision all the elements required to deliver new services or business applications, is looking to draw users as well as development partners to its new VFrame Data Center appliance.
The appliance, due in August, is intended to streamline the process of provisioning servers, storage, networks and all the other elements required to bring new business applications online.
Cisco with its Data Center 3.0 strategy is aiming to create a stronger position for itself in the data center by leveraging the trends of data center and server consolidation as well as virtualization of resources.
"At the heart of it is a unified fabric that can bring in the best of Ethernet, storage and the resilience of Fibre Channel and the low latency of InfiniBand," said Jayshree Ullal, senior vice president of data center, switching and security technology at Cisco, in San Jose, Calif.
Cisco believes it can have a place in helping customers streamline resource provisioning because of the attributes of the network in the data center, she said. "The network is the most pervasive aspect of the data center because it is uniquely neutral and scalable. With VFrame, Cisco is the first to provide networkwide orchestration and consolidation of resources across an entire architecture," she said.
The VFrame appliance provides an end-to-end view of the elements that make up a service and coordinates servers, I/O, storage, networking and networking services such as firewalls and load balancers.
Currently, provisioning all those elements to bring a new application online requires coordination across function-specific administrators who have a silo view of the elements they manage. The intent of the VFrame is to eliminate the coordination delay that happens between those administrators.
"Say you want to add one server to a Web farm. You have to ask a system administrator to rack a new server and load the OS and application. Then you have to contact the network team and ask for Ethernet connectivity for the server, put it in a VLAN [virtual LAN] and set up the appropriate IP addresses," said Krish Ramakrishnan, vice president and general manager of Ciscos server virtualization business unit.
"Then if you have storage connectivity for the server, you have to talk to a storage administrator and arrange storage for the new server, so that gets provisioned. If its in a Web tier, then you have to interface with load balancers and firewalls," Ramakrishnan said.
The VFrame brings a greater level of automation to that process by sending parallel commands to those elements to configure them. "It is process automation, in some sense," Ramakrishnan said.
But for the VFrame to work across a multivendor data center, Cisco will need to convince other players in the data center to use the VFrames APIs to allow their gear to be provisioned. Cisco said it intends to create a partner community to encourage development, which will also be extended to management tools providers.
The VFrame APIs will simplify that task to some extent by hiding the complexity of having to write to multiple protocols such as SNMP, command-line interfaces, XML and the like, Ramakrishnan said. "Since the network lacks that programmability, people will program to the VFrame API. Well make that a standard," he said.
Although VFrame will overlap with existing provisioning products from vendors such as Opsware, Ullal described its capabilities as "a mile wide" versus the "mile-deep" provisioning for server or storage-specific offerings, she said.
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