Cisco, VMware Talk SDN on VCE Vblocks

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2014-05-16

Cisco, VMware Talk SDN on VCE Vblocks

Makers of integrated data center systems are embracing software-defined networking technologies, and in the process, becoming a flashpoint in the growing competition between Cisco Systems and VMware in this market.

Specifically, officials with VCE—a company spun out of a partnership between Cisco, VMware and storage giant EMC—this week announced new Vblock converged infrastructure that includes Cisco's Nexus 9000 Series switches, the foundation for the networking vendor's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) initiative. ACI was introduced in November 2013 as Cisco's answer to the growing software-defined networking (SDN) trend.

In addition, Vblock officials are promising more ACI-related news next week at the Cisco Live 2014 conference in San Francisco, which starts May 18.

In addition, Cisco, as part of a larger announcement regarding ACI May 16, talked about not only the integration of Nexus 9000 with the Vblock systems, but also in the FlexPod solutions it has developed along with partner NetApp. Like the Vblock offerings, the FlexPod solutions are integrated data center products with tightly integrated compute, storage, networking, virtualization and management software components that are aimed at enterprise and cloud environments.

Cisco CEO John Chambers and other company executives, in a conference call with analysts and journalists May 14 to talk about quarterly financial numbers, touted the ACI integrations with the Vblock and FlexPod solutions, and pointed to them as proof points of Cisco's gathering strength in the network virtualization space.

"I feel very, very comfortable with our ability to win not with the 9000 alone, but how we're going to not only embrace SDN and benefit from it, but we're going to lead in SDN," Chambers said.

Rob Lloyd, president of development and sales at Cisco, said the company's vision with ACI—which includes a strong combined hardware-software play—is different from what other vendors are doing.

"When you think of the differences across not only our catalyst switch and our routers and access technology, the vision of ACI is to use the construct of a unique application policy—which no one else is talking about in SDN—and move that policy not only across both physical and virtual networks in the data center but [also] to the wide-area [networks] into the access [layer]," Lloyd said.

In its announcements May 16, Cisco officials also talked of other ways they are expanding ACI's reach, including through integration with legacy Nexus switches already deployed in existing data centers, offering a migration path for customers to get to ACI, and through integration with the company's UCS Director, the management software for Cisco's own converged data center offering, the Unified Computing System.


Cisco, VMware Talk SDN on VCE Vblocks

VCE officials said the combination of Vblocks and ACI will be a win for businesses.

"Virtualized and cloud environments require more agility and simplicity to quickly deploy, migrate and maintain applications without introducing compliance, security and performance challenges," Berna Devrim, director of product and solution marketing at VCE, wrote in post on the company blog. "IT organizations, on the other hand, are challenged with operational complexity, architectural rigidity and infrastructure inefficiency that result from manual processes, disjointed provisioning, static resource allocations and disruptions when growth is needed. … Our new 'ACI-ready' Vblock Systems offer a dramatically accelerated and low-risk path to new application and technology adoption, optimal deployment and consistent operations across virtualized and bare metal environments."

The same day that Chambers spoke on the conference call, a VMware official wrote a blog post boasting how well its NSX network virtualization platform runs on Vblocks. VCE Vblock systems running NSX were on display at the EMC World 2014 show earlier this month, and NSX—built from technology inherited when VMware bought SDN startup Nicira in 2012 for $1.26 billion—is a natural fit for the systems, according to Hatem Naguib, vice president and networking and security at VMware.

VMware introduced NSX in August 2013.

"The next step on this path [to a software-defined data center] is virtualization of the network," Naguib wrote in the blog post. "Why? Because the business is demanding the same agility they see in virtualized compute across the entire converged infrastructure, and the network is holding them back. The network needs to deliver the same operational performance and efficiency enabled by virtualization. VMware NSX is an ideal platform for virtualizing the network running on top of converged infrastructure such as Vblock Systems in the SDDC. In fact, we’ve found that NSX runs absolutely great on Vblock Systems."

Naguib said there are organizations already running NSX on Vblocks, and that interest from VCE customers "continues to accelerate." He also noted that NSX is part of EMC's reference architecture for hybrid enterprise clouds, which include Vblock systems as an infrastructure platform.


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