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Imagine if you were a building contractor and a client came to you and said, “I need you to build a commercial facility suitable for a variety of occupants, including a 24-hour machine shop that consumes massive amounts of electricity, a workshop for the disabled full of assistive equipment, and a rare gems dealer who requires maximum security.  Oh – and by the way – they’ve all signed 5-year leases, so your design will have to anticipate their future needs.”

You’d be facing a multitenancy challenge similar to what our Cisco IT architects faced when designing our new Allen, Texas data center.  It had to be built from the ground up to satisfy the evolving needs of widely-diverse businesses living side by side.  Everything had to be factored into the design: the resiliency requirements of critical applications, physical security, logical security, and more.  How would those requirements affect the network?  Or impact the physical dimensions?  Or future growth contingencies?

For Cisco, the answer was to design the Allen data center around a multitenancy strategy.  (See our special feature, “Multitenancy: Thinking Like a Service Provider”, in the DC2011 interactive for more.)

For maximum flexibility, Cisco engineers designed a cabling scheme that enables any server in the data center to be plugged into any of several networks as needed.  In this way, servers sharing common networking requirements need not be physically grouped together.  It also means that tenants can scale up or down easily over time.

The systems are then organized into logical networks that share common characteristics and security policies, such as “production,” “non-production,” “Internet,” and “development.”  This enables the Allen data center to support the delivery of IT as a service.  Virtualization and Cisco’s internal cloud make service provisioning more flexible, while Cisco’s Unified Computing System simplifies management and automates many tasks.

Multitenancy even influenced the physical layout of the data center, as my colleagues Doug Alger and Wilson Ng note in the “Making Space For Multitenancy” video in the DC2011 interactive.

These measures give our businesses greater resiliency, performance, and room to grow.  For Cisco, our multitenancy strategy enables us to manage our data centers more effectively at lower cost, and to support our internal customers like a true service provider.

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