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Our Evolving Stripes…

July 29, 2008 - 3 Comments

Today, as I sat in my office wondering what to do since I cannot play Scrabulous any more (and still try to get a 500 point game, hit 490 the other week….) I was reading about clouds. Not the cloudy kind of judgement that causes things like Scrabulous to be shut down, but the kind of clouds that are on the beginning of the superhighway of Hype- Cloud Computing! There was an interesting article on GigaOm today about Networking Vendors Must Change Their Stripes to address the opportunity provided by the cloud computing evolution that is beginning to happen in the market. The first thing about evolution is that these architectural evolutions do not happen nearly as fast as the authors of such articles would like to think, and definitely not as fast as it takes to write above-said article. But notwithstanding there is some real ‘meat’ behind the Cloud Movement. It is an EVOLUTION though- an evolution of servers, of storage, of the networks that interconnect them, of load balancing, of firewalling, of security policy, of the atomic unit that application processing architectures are built on top of, of management tools, and an evolution of billing/accounting models. Combine them, and yes in the end if you were to look at the current de rigeur state of computing and compare it to the possibilities hopefully enabled by the cloud models it would look REVOLUTIONARY.However, evolution takes time. And in that there is a distinct first-mover advantage that sometimes comes to bear- for instance as I commented in my reply to the GigaOm article we have been focused on virtualizing as much of our infrastructure as possible. It is not a quick journey, its not a simple feature, its not a hack. It’s a complete top-down and bottom-up redesign of many things that people take for granted. It’s looking at the hardware, the ASICs, the memory subsystems and controllers, resource schedulers, arbiters, and software operating systems designed with stateful process restart and fully separate and independent processes for each function. This takes a long time. For some functions the Virtual Appliance concept makes sense – I have been an advocate of this for some of our own products for a long time. These would be product where the underlying hardware is not the source of differentiation or competitive advantage and having the appliance be capable of being ported from one class of machine to another could offer some intrinsic value or allow the customer to reuse processing cycles more efficiently. I can’t publish our road map and state which Cisco applications lend themselves best to this but lets say most things with deep packet inspection and encryption processing DO NOT lend themselves to virtual appliances very well. Given that caveat what applications do you want to see us release as virtual appliances????Now for the good news – we’ve been preparing for this for over six years. From the first virtualized firewall to the first virtualized load balancer, to the Nexus 7000 and Nexus 5000 that enable the I/O itself to become virtual, or software provisionable as the case may be. We also brought out tools like VFrame to enable a simplification of the deployment and an automation of common IT workflows so we can speed up IT responsiveness and really become an enabler of Enterprise Clouds. Kind of a profound realization – we have the tools today that can build Enterprise Clouds. At least the core infrastructure and a lot of the hard part- we still ahve work to do, and there are still significant organizational barriers to the deployment of some of these offerings. But they are maturing, and evolving.Our competitors are trying as well – through their M&A strategy, or in another case through new management that may be a result of that same aforementioned M&A strategies execution path. All I can say is the next few years are going to continue to be very very fun….

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  1. Sean- interesting idea. I had a really brilliant engineer on my team once named Prashant Gandhi (who subsequently founded a pretty cool start-up) who had a similar idea.Why would you want that? Call it random curiosity or maybe message-testing :) dg

  2. I would like to see a virtual Catalyst Switch that I can place inside my ESX Server.

  3. I think it's important to remember that 'cloud' aren't just about the big public guys like Amazon, Microsoft etc. Organisations can use exactly the same principals to deploy their own internal services clouds, keeping data and control fenced within the corporate network, and with future improvements in VM/data portability this makes a move to public clouds an option if required in the future (once the lawyers and compliance people have overcome the data ownership/isolation angles to public clouds).Cisco gear features heavily in our reference architecture for this type of setup, currently with the 6500 + ACE series chassis, but the Nexus platform is looking interesting too.I've written some thoughts on my blog here