Cisco throws California virt-server gauntlet

Much talk, action pending

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The Partners

Two key parts of the California system come from partners VMware and BMC Software, the latter of which makes a living selling tools to help system administrators cope with myriad kinds of servers, operating systems, middleware, and applications. Cisco has inked an OEM agreement with VMware, as it turns out, and will be integrating its hypervisor and unspecified virtualization management tools into the California system.

VMware has also worked with Cisco to create the Nexus 1000V virtual switch, which as the name suggests virtualizes the links between VMs running on servers and physical Cisco switches such that as VMs teleport around the network, their network links are not broken. The added bonus is that this big switch is an instance of the Cisco IOS operating system that is actually running inside an ESX Server VM on an X64 server - presumably on one or more of the blades in the California setup.

Cisco has, as rumored, tapped BMC Software as an OEM partner for managing everything above the iron, and has OEMed BMC's BladeLogic software for this task. The Unified Computing System Manager software that Cisco has created to manage the hardware and that is embedded in the 10 Gigabit Ethernet fabric of the system feeds all kinds of data through XML APIs up to the BladeLogic software, which is used to provision, patch, and manage the operating systems and software stacks running inside VMs.

Microsoft is, of course, a partner on the California system, since you can't ignore Windows in the data center, and presumably, Hyper-V will be supported alongside ESX Server on the hypervisors. (No one at the Cisco launch answered that and many other questions seeking details). On the Linux front, Red Hat and Novell are partners and their Linuxes will be deployed as part of the system, presumably on ESX Server at first and then maybe atop Hyper-V since Red Hat and Novell both have interoperability efforts in the works to make sure their respective Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server distros can run atop Hyper-V.

There's obviously a services play here too, since this is an integrated system, and we learned today that Cisco and Accenture have formed a joint business group to help customers suss out where they can deploy California systems and help them do it. CSC has also been tapped as a Cisco system integration partner, and Wipro and Tata have also been asked to partner to help with application and business process re-engineering as it relates to customers moving to California systems.

It seems unlikely that other server makers are going to be invited to the party to plug their blade infrastructure into the California line, and when Chambers was asked about this, he deflected the question and another executive, Rob Lloyd, who was just named executive vice president of Cisco's worldwide operations (effective at the end of April) a few weeks ago, basically didn't address that issue and said repeatedly this is going to be sold as a system.

That sure doesn't sound like a BladeCenter or BladeSystem will slide in there. The integration of the management tools, the memory extension technologies Cisco has created for its Nehalem blades, and other unique features will make it difficult for Cisco to truly open up the system if it wants to keep integration and support costs down.

When asked about how big of a market opportunity this might mean for Cisco, Chambers hedged a little. "I always like to let products run for a year before we talk about what is possible," he explained, adding that the California system would now allow Cisco to chase about 25 per cent of spending in data centers. That's a lot bigger piece of the pie than Cisco gets now, and he went on to say that the California system could end up being a $10bn opportunity for Cisco some years from now.

The one thing that Cisco is clear on is who is signing off on these deals: the CIO. Cisco and its partners are going right to the top to push the California systems, right over the heads of server, storage, and network managers who want to protect their own fiefdoms. "It will be an executive engagement," Chambers said.

And you can bet that Cisco is going to be pushing the fact that it can support virtualized x64 workloads with about half the infrastructure as competitors are cobbling together and reduce both capital and operating expenses by at least 35 per cent. Those are the kinds of numbers CEOs and CIOs like to hear even before they get the feeds and speeds. Which is why Cisco talked about them in that order. As soon as the machines are shipping, Cisco will move on to talk about how the machines are intended to create private clouds, and then after that happens, Cisco will talk up something it is calling "inter-clouds."

Cisco says that it has ten beta customers using the California systems and has deployed it in production in its own IT shop; Pat Gelsinger, who manages Intel's Digital Enterprise Group and the partnership with Cisco, says he just told Intel's IT group to roll it out, too. Cisco says that it will have early customer trials "next quarter" and did not provide a date when the system would be generally available.

As we learn more, we'll tell more. ®

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