I was speaking with a customer the other day and they asked me a seemingly innocent question, “If VMware is all about abstracting hardware from software, why do hardware vendors bother going to VMworld?” I say “innocent question” because the customer didn’t mean any harm, he ran the application development group for a large Enterprise, but obviously this is an interesting question because today’s Data Center technology trends are rapidly changing some old ways of thinking.
My immediate reaction was, “We attend because Larry Ellison told us that hardware still matters.” All joking aside, the conversation shifted in a couple directions.
The first direction was around “hardware companies” vs. “software companies” and if those definitions were actually relevant any longer. Is any company truly just a hardware-only or software-only company today? I guess someone could argue that there are a few major software-only players (including VMware), but they are becoming a smaller and smaller group because of M&A activities. Most of them are realizing the value of doing system-level integration of hardware and software to deliver more complete solutions to their customers.
In the case of Cisco, the market generally tends to categorize us as a hardware company more than a software company, but I tend to look at that as a historic artifact against the reality of today’s hybrid environment. For example, in the Data Center space, Cisco clearly has a broad portfolio of “hardware boxes” to build out Ethernet, Fiber Channel or Unified network infrastructure and services. But where the interesting problems get solved is in the software provided via Cisco UCS or Cisco Nexus, providing unified software to automate operations across multiple functional domains. Just as VMware abstracts the Application/OS from the server hardware, Cisco UCS Service-Profiles abstract the “personality” of the server from the underlying server/network hardware. Cisco Nexus 1000v can provide functionality as software-only capability, or leverage VN-Link or Nexus 1010v hardware acceleration when needed. Cisco Nexus switching technology such as OTV and FabricPath abstract the L2 domains, which allow VM mobility, from the physical location of VMs associated with servers.
The second direction was around “IT roles in the Data Center”. As I’ve discussed before, the traditional silos between IT organizations are starting to blur or get knocked down because of virtualization technologies. Automation capabilities are available today to allow companies to build Private Cloud or Public Cloud infrastructures, but there is still a need to coordinate process and skills between Application, Virtualization, Computing, Networking, Security and Storage professionals. VMworld is one place where all of those skills gather to learn about what the others are doing, as well as start to understand how the technologies are evolving which affect their world. Cisco has always been a major participant in those traditional conversations, so it’s a nature extension for us to be a major presence at VMworld.
So in a nutshell, “hardware vendors” like Cisco attend VMworld because today and tomorrow’s Data Centers are about hardware + software. We attend because the challenges created as a result of virtualization require expertise that Cisco brings with our combination of hardware + software. We attend because the landscape for IT professionals and IT service organizations require skills that blend the hardware + software technologies Cisco brings to the market. And we attend because our customers demand it and because our partnership with VMware is incredibly aligned in both vision and technology.
We hope to see you at VMworld next week. Cisco will be a Gold Diamond level sponsor. We’re already in the VMworld virtual booths. If you want to follow us on Twitter, keep an eye on hashtag #ciscovm10