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InterCloud Plus Cisco Intelligent Automation for 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.

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Virtualization Everywhere, but not a Cloud in Sight!

Customers have often said to me, “Joann, we have virtualization all over the place. That’s cloud isn’t it?”   My response is, “Well not really, that is not a cloud, but you can get to cloud!”  Then there is a brief uncomfortable silence, which I resolve with an action provoking explanation that I will now share with you.

Here’s why that isn’t truly a cloud. What these customers often have is server provisioning that automates the process of standing up new virtual servers while the storage, network, and application layers continue to be provisioned manually. The result is higher management costs that strain IT budgets, which are decreasing or flat to begin with. With this approach, businesses aren’t seeing the agility and flexibility they expected from cloud. So, they become frustrated when they see their costs rising and continue struggling to align with new business innovation.

If your IT department adopted widespread virtualization and thought it was cloud, my guess is you are probably nodding your head in agreement.  Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

So then, what are the key elements an organization needs to achieve the speed, flexibility and agility promised by cloud?

1)      Self-service portal and service catalog
The self-service portal is the starting point that customers use to order cloud services. Think of a self-service portal as a menu at a restaurant.  The end user is presented with a standardized menu of services that have been defined to IT’s policies and standards and customers simply order what they need.  Self-service portals greatly streamline resource deployment which reduces the manual effort by IT to provision resources.

2)      Service delivery automation
After the user selects services from the portal service menu, then what? Well, under the hood should be automated service delivery—which is a defining characteristic of a real cloud environment.  Behind each of the standardized menu items in the self-service portal is a blueprint or instructions that prescribe how the service order is delivered across the data center resources.  This has been proven to appreciably simplify IT operations, reduce costs and drive business flexibility.

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A Cloud Management Solution You Can Believe In, Or Better Yet, Bank On

Guest Blogger: Yair Dolev (@CiscoCloudY) brings extensive experience in enterprise application development and management of advanced data center virtualization technology products to Cisco’s Cloud and Systems Management Technology Group. Prior to Cisco, Yair was Director of Product Management at data center automation authority Tidal Software, and managed the groundbreaking Azul Virtual Machine products at Azul Systems, which enabled data centers to run large Java workloads on highly scalable, optimized hardware. 

In my last blog entry, I told you about some of the most fundamental new concepts in Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud (IAC) v3.1 and how they help address top-of-mind issues for our customers. This time I’d like to address a matter no less significant.

At the core of every cloud initiative there always lurks a concern about the sustained viability of such a comprehensive transformation – and this applies to adoption of a new cloud operating model as well as to the deployment of the new technology required. It boils down to two things: trust and cost. Can I trust that this solution will still fit me in the future, and how much will I really have to pay for this fit?

One of the things I really like about Cisco IAC is that it’s built around a core software platform that allows for an amazing level of flexibility and extensibility. Our software can be configured and adapted to closely fit what your IT organization wants to offer to meet your unique business needs. The user portal can be made to look different and behave differently for a variety of users, and it can enforce your organization’s policies and controls. The orchestration engine is adaptable to model a wide range of customer processes, and it’s extensible to communicate with other IT operations management software, OSS/BSS tools or infrastructure systems. Our solution can be extended beyond infrastructure services, to encompass a broad range of IT and business services at the platform and application layer (more on this later). The best news is: you can protect the investment you made so that the changes persist through future product updates. Let’s review some of these key capabilities:

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Learn about Unified Management in the Data Center and Cloud Booth at Cisco Live London 2013!

If you haven’t heard about Unified Management, it refers to our portfolio of data center and cloud management software products. Cisco’s data center and cloud management software helps our customers to deliver IT services faster, more efficiently, and with lower total cost of ownership.

This year we’ve made it even easier for you to learn about these software solutions, with several demo stands on the expo floor and more than 17 breakout and theatre presentations.

We invite you to join us at Cisco Live London and learn more…

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Cloupia + Cisco Unified Management = Better Together

Yesterday, Cisco announced that we closed on the acquisition of Cloupia.  Cloupia is now officially part of Cisco and a very exciting new addition to our Unified Management software portfolio.

Ever since the news broke about Cisco’s intent to acquire Cloupia, I’ve been asked how this fits with our other data center and cloud management software products.  In short, Cloupia’s strength is in converged infrastructure management and it’s a powerful complement to Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) Manager as well as our cloud management software.

The Cloupia Unified Infrastructure Controller extends the value of UCS Manager and provides deeper compute, storage, and network provisioning for converged infrastructure solutions including FlexPod, ExpressPod, Vblock, and VSPEX.  It delivers a unified control point for this infrastructure, with physical and virtual resource management that can be combined with our Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud solution.  There are also potential synergies with other management software products in our portfolio including Cisco Network Services Manager and Cisco Virtual Network Management Center for the automation and provisioning of network resources.

Last week, I was at the Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas where I spoke with several analysts, customers, and partners about this new addition to our software portfolio. I’ve used the graphic below to illustrate our perspective on the management requirements for cloud computing – showing how infrastructure management provides an essential foundation for cloud management and orchestration.

One of the key take-aways from the feedback I heard at the conference was that Cisco has a highly differentiated position in the data center and cloud management market. Many of our competitors have resource management for virtual compute, but their functionality to manage physical resources is limited; few have the ability to manage storage and network infrastructure.

With Cloupia, we’ve strengthened Cisco’s ability to manage both physical and virtual resources across compute, storage, and network infrastructure.  Now IT administrators can quickly setup and configure Unified Data Center solutions built around our best-in-class Cisco UCS and Nexus products, from within a single management console – improving both IT speed and agility.

And how does this fit with Cisco’s existing cloud management products?  Like peanut butter and jelly, infrastructure management and cloud management are actually quite different. You can refer to this blog post by my colleague Wayne Greene for an overview and some key distinctions.  But, like with peanut butter and jelly, when you put the two together – it’s a great combination.  That’s the vision we have for Cloupia and Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud: better together.  Spread it on some UCS, and it’s PBJ time.

As with many software acquisitions in this space, we recognize that there are some areas of similar functionality across our management products – and our product engineering teams will be addressing that in our roadmaps going forward.  Now that the acquisition has closed, our teams can focus on this collaboration and integration.  The graphic below illustrates how Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud will use Cloupia’s northbound API to consume physical and virtual resources in a Vblock, FlexPod, VSPEX, ExpressPod, or other Cisco converged infrastructure solution.

Converged infrastructure management from Cloupia is the foundation for dynamically provisioning compute, storage, and network resources.  Process orchestration is required to manage the end-to-end workflow, bringing infrastructure automation together with business policies and your existing IT operations environment. And as James Staten of Forrester pointed out in a recent blog post, it requires a portal interface and service catalog to “unify enterprise-cloud consumption” across application and infrastructure services, and across private and public clouds.

One way to look at this synergy is to think about the “supply chain” for your IT services: spanning converged infrastructure management, process orchestration, and the end-user service catalog.  At one end, you have the factory – it’s where you put together the raw materials (VMs, LUNs, blades, switches), configure the resources, and control the infrastructure. Then you have logistics for transportation and warehouse management, including third party intermediaries – that’s the process orchestration and integration with other operational systems.  And finally, every cloud needs a storefront – that’s the service catalog and self-service provisioning experience for IT consumers.

To push the analogy a bit further, let’s start with some raw ingredients. Take coffee* as an example – sounds simple and straightforward, like infrastructure.  But is it?

Starbucks claims to have 87,000 combinations on their menu. It can get pretty complicated (like a grande decaf no-whip skinny peppermint white chocolate mocha with an extra shot).

In much the same way, infrastructure-as-a-service may sound simple.  Isn’t it just a few basic ingredients with compute, storage, and network?  But think about all the variations and service options (like backup or 24x7 support) required for enterprise application hosting.  Even if you’re using the same infrastructure components, it’s much more than provisioning VMs, LUNs, and VLANs.

When you do it right, you can hide all this complexity from the end user.  The power of the apparent simplicity in the Amazon.com catalog interface, combined with their logistics and supply chain operations behind the scenes, is what fueled the company’s success in e-commerce.  And while your IT service catalog may not have the millions of SKUs that Amazon.com sells on their website (or the 87,000 options on the Starbucks menu), customer satisfaction and operational efficiency is just as important to managing your infrastructure and IT services.

That’s the value of converged infrastructure management when combined with cloud management: providing a simple and easy-to-use experience with on-demand provisioning, along with governance and process orchestration, to deliver the right services at the right time at the right cost to your IT consumers.

And that’s our vision for the addition of Cloupia to Unified Management.  Better together.  Please join me in welcoming Cloupia to the Cisco team.

*Thanks to Kevin Kelling (@BlueShiftBlog) for the analogy.

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