Cisco, VMware Talk SDN on VCE Vblocks

Both companies boast about the performance of their network virtualization offerings on converged platforms like Vblocks and FlexPod solutions.

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.