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Data Center and Cloud

Cisco continues to roll out innovations that will enable the next generations of multi-cloud computing.  I’m a product manager working on Cisco’s Cloud Management software, and we’re all about the high-level, self-service, automatic provisioning of services that the end-user cares about.  The network just moves ones and zeros, and all protocols of interest (HTTP, SSH, RDP, SQL, etc.) work fine over TCP/IP.  The hypervisor takes care of putting that pesky motherboard chipset and storage bus into a black box, right?  The end-user doesn’t care about that stuff, or at least doesn’t want to have to care about it.

A common perspective, except among the engineers who manage the network, is that network infrastructure is a bunch of mysterious plumbing that “just works” and how it does what it does doesn’t matter.  Indeed, many vendors in the “cloud” arena would like to perpetuate this perspective on the network.  They would like you to believe a bunch of dumb pipes can carry traffic and that determination of the traffic (content, flow, etc.) is determined at higher levels in the stack.

In some cases, this is true, but operating this way doesn’t unlock anything new.  The model they describe would be brilliant if all of your network requirements were defined in 1998.  Few companies can afford to operate technology today like they did in 1998 and remain competitive.

Cisco is announcing a new Nexus 1000V (N1KV), and this one changes the game.  In brief, the Nexus 1000V is the foundation of the networking services that Cisco brings to virtual computing.  The N1KV can be managed using the same NX-OS commands and practices used to manage the Nexus 5K and 7K switches, and extends network control down to the VM and virtual port into which a VM is “plugged in”, even across different vendors’ hypervisors.

The N1KV is also the platform for additional L2 and L3 network services such as those provided by the vASA Firewall, vNAM, and VSG.  The new Nexus 1000V InterCloud extends this ability to cloud service providers, such as Amazon, but is “cross-provider” (in fact, it doesn’t even depend on the Cloud Service Provider).  For me, in my role as a Cloud Product Manager, this is an important new addition to basic networking capabilities, and is exactly the kind of thing that Cisco can and should do in its role as “Networking Giant” to open up the promise of hybrid or multi-cloud.

I have a mental image of what this can do, and I tried to put this into images to the right. Animation would have been better, I just don’t have the Flash skills to put it together for a quick blog post. I envision a virtual machine as a ghostly “physical” server tower with network cables plugged into it. These network connections can come from end-users in a client-server model, or any of our web-and-mobile constructs. After all, we still are end-users connecting to machines. Of course, the “client” for a compute function could be another compute function, so there is a network cable coming from another nearby ghost server. These ghost servers can today float from blade to blade thanks to most mainstream virtual machine managers (VMM) and a virtual switch like the N1KV, and the cords stay connected throughout. With the new N1KV, that VM can float right out of that VMM and into another VMM (such as across VMware datacenters, or even from VMware to Hyper-V), or out to a public or hosted provider. The cord just magically uncoils to remain connected wherever that machine goes! I love magic.

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The N1KV provides that cable that can float after its ethereal virtual machine.  It also provides the platform to maintain monitoring by the vNAM, even as the machine moves.  You simply can’t economically achieve this using basic dumb pipes. Add to this the new Virtual Network Management Console (VNMC) InterCloud management capabilities.  In order for that cord to stay connected, there do have to be network switches or routers along the way that understand how to make that network cable follow the machine.  VNMC InterCloud manages these devices, but adds another particularly important capability: actually moving the workload.

VNMC InterCloud adds the ability to discover virtual machines, and convert them to a cloud-provider’s instance format, move what could possibly be a fairly large set of files, and get that machine started back up in a far-away environment, with seamless network consistency. VNMC InterCloud is like a puff of wind that pushes the ghostly VM from my corporate VMWare-based cloud to float over to my hosted private cloud. Remember, ghosts can float through walls.

This is groundbreaking.  Workload mobility is one of those hard-to-do core capabilities required for all of us to realize the promise of multi-cloud, and it requires a network that is both dynamic and very high performing.  I’ve been looking forward to this from Cisco for some time now.

Getting back to why I care, remember that Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud (IAC) makes everything user-accessible and service-centric.  The end-user experience is arguably the most important thing differentiating the current generation of cloud management from “Grandpa’s IT.”  Cloud management software like Intelligent Automation for Cloud makes infrastructure capabilities into end-user services.  The new N1KV and VNMC InterCloud, along with unbelievably fast wire speeds, provide the infrastructure service to make workload mobility achievable.  With configuration, IAC can make workload mobility a part of end-user services from day 1, and I expect to see this get rolled into the OOTB product and the IAC accelerators.  I slapped together a couple of mock-ups of the Cisco Cloud Portal below to show how this might appear to an end-user.  Depending on their preferences or selections, a security policy restricts which server types can wander outside the corporate datacenter should a performance policy determine that auto-scaling is needed.

Click on the images below to enlarge. 

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These are really just the starting point.  Mobility of the network itself for compute workloads of all types is going to open up a lot of new possibilities.  I hesitate to even name any because my gut tells me I’m missing the biggest ones to come, but consider having the ability to economically and seamlessly add or change cloud service providers or hypervisor platforms, migrate UAT applications to production with the click of an “Approve” button, or follow-the-sun capacity for things like SaaS applications.  These are really hard to do today and require extensive customization or up-front manual investment, but will become quite economically achievable for Cisco’s cloud management software, thanks to the N1KV and VNMC InterCloud releases.

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