Rumors of an alliance between Cisco and VMware have been swirling with varying levels of intensity for some time.
What’s the business problem that a potential alliance needs to address?
1) The most obvious one is that current VMware Distributed Resource Scheduling (DRS), Disaster Recovery (DR), and High Availability (HA) functionality built on core capabilities like VMotion are incomplete. It’s hard to move the Virtual Machine (VM) for spare capacity or to deal with downtime to any random server and maintain the connections to the same isolated data and storage area network (SAN). Instead, administrators either have to open up the network so any server can see any other server and any storage device, a security risk, or they have to manually remap the connections.
2) The less obvious and more speculative problem to be addressed is the management and automation of business services across resources and applications. It is still primitive, though the big 4, CA, BMC, HP Openview, and IBM Tivoli are all hard at work addressing this, and CIOs are looking for the provider of a strategic, new provider.
So what might VMware and Cisco do about these challenges?
1) As far as DRS, DR, HA – Cisco could enhance its Nexus 5000 switch to make it possible for VMware DR, HA software to move a collection of servers, related storage, and associated network connections to a backup site or to add additional capacity with no manual intervention. Adding the mobility to virtual connectivity would probably take some collaborative development between VMware and Cisco, building on Cisco’s existing technology. The Nexus 5000 already virtualizes the I/O between a server and the data and SAN networks. It takes one big Ethernet pipe from the server (2 for redundancy) and then delivers separate connectivity to data and SAN networks. (Starts 3Leaf and Xsigo offer this functionality and supposedly Brocade is close behind).
Some have suggested that Cisco could go so far as adding VMware VMs to server blades in its switch. we think that’s unlikely because it would create instant enemies out of HP, IBM, and Dell and motivate them to elevate competitive offerings. We think a more plausible alternative is to tip toe up to the point of adding full server capabilities.
Given that enterprises are spending more on server I/O and storage than virtualized servers,Cisco may see a larger market opportunity as well as a collection of less threatening competitors. Instead of invading traditional server territory, Cisco could potentially carve out much of the value add of the storage systems as possible to build on its dominance of connectivity.. Today, VMware DRS, DR and HA software works by orchestrating a workflow that involves software on the virtualized servers as well as software built into the storage system such as thin provisioning, snapshots, deduplication, and replication. It’s possible Cisco could build enough storage intelligence into its switch so that VMware can have it manage the storage intelligence such as snapshots and replication. In that scenario, the Cisco switch would treat the back-end storage as a dumb set of disk arrays and make multi-vendor storage systems much easier to manage.
2) On the management and automation front, VMware has big ambitions but little to show for them thus far. Cisco might be able to help there. VMware’s goal is to deliver the automation, reliability, and security of the mainframe to a data center full of commodity x86 servers. Cisco has a management and automation product called VFrame that has good functionality on paper but has experienced teething problems within Cisco. From what we’ve heard, Cisco’s own IT operation doesn’t run it and the sales force never warmed up to it. They appear to be more comfortable with selling big ticket infrastructure based on speeds and feeds instead of a business solution. Perhaps VMware can build on it and breathe new life into it.
Whatever happens, VMware has its work cut out for it. Microsoft appears to be aligning its significant systems management resources behind its hypervisor foundation. Citrix has an enviable channel and installed base from which to upsell desktop virtualization. And even Red Hat has acquired a well-regarded, high-performance hypervisor. Meanwhile, the big 4 systems management vendors have been working on the management and automation of business services even while the virtualization revolution was brewing.