Cisco Inches Data Center Strategy Forward

The company's Data Center 3.0 vision could be three to five years down the road, officials say.

SAN JOSE, Calif.-Despite the emphasis on virtualization at the Cisco Systems C-Scape conference here, Cisco's efforts in the data center virtualization arena are barely underway.

Although CEO John Chambers described a coming revolution in the data center as a result of virtualization, Cisco's Data Center 3.0 vision, launched this summer, will be a three- to five-year effort before coming to fruition, said Jayshree Ullal, senior vice president of the data center switching and services group.

The centerpiece of that vision, the Cisco VFrame Data Center appliance, was designed to bring greater automation to the process of provisioning the server, storage and network resources needed to bring new business applications online.


To read more about Cisco's VFrame Data Center, click here.

While it has only been in the market since August, Cisco has already entered into proof-of-concept trials with 20 to 30 customers, said Krish Ramakrishnan, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Server Virtualization Business Unit.

"The most interest is coming from managed services providers-hosting environments. It's like a duck to water. In that environment with VFrame, they could rapidly provision and bring e-commerce applications online, and they could re-provision on the fly," Ramakrishnan said.

Cisco's aim is not to compete head-to-head with provisioning providers such as Hewlett-Packard's Opsware but to complement those deeper-level provisioning tools.

For the VFrame appliance to work across a multivendor data center, it must be integrated with the infrastructure elements it is designed to help provision through a set of APIs.


To date Cisco has integrated the VFrame with server blades from HP, Dell, IBM, and Network Appliance, said Bill Erdman, marketing director for data center virtualization.

However, more strategic is integration with operations tools, such as service-level agreement management, middleware and facilities management, he said.

Beyond its partnership with VMware, Cisco has also partnered with Tibco, which is working with the VFrame APIs to integrate its middleware primarily for the financial services sector, Ramakrishnan said.

Erdman described the role Cisco expects the VFrame to play as "provisioning middleware."

Cisco is also wooing partners in the change and software image management arena to work with the VFrame APIs. "If you want to do a change to the network, you want to invoke the customer's [existing] change product," Ramakrishnan said.

"In our model, configuration changes have topology and logical connectivity awareness. Customers will still use their patching and image management but through our running server model," Erdman said.

Rather than going after every vendor that provides such functionality, Cisco is "hand picking" the vendors it wants to work with. "We want to select a handful of companies to partner with and get all those APIs correct and then expand it to more general availability," Ramakrishnan said.

Beyond facilitating the fast provisioning of different resources, Cisco is also working to add instrumentation to the VFrame, which would provide a level of visibility into the virtualized environment across servers, storage and networks. That instrumentation is due in the second quarter of 2008 in the next release of the VFrame appliance.

"That is where we will have more visibility into guest applications and the mobility of that application and its impact on the infrastructure," Ramakrishnan said. "We'll start with minor instrumentation to monitor the load and over time provide more visibility into that process. We are actively looking for an ecosystem partner to interface with their APIs. There are startups and smaller players in the grid middleware space who monitor these applications today. We want to work with them."


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