How Cisco moved along to PaaS

Cisco's private cloud advanced from providing VMs to employees to being an application development platform

Having on-demand virtual machines for employees is one thing, but that wasn't enough for networking giant Cisco, says Rodrigo Flores, an enterprise architect in the company's intelligent automation business unit.

Last year Cisco launched what Flores calls one of the most advanced private cloud networks in the world, giving Cisco's 60,000 employees access to a shopping cart of virtual machine types. This infrastructure as a service (IaaS) cloud has offerings ranging from mirco instances of anywhere from one to five VMs to jumbo instances of 250 VMs, with 500 CPUs and up to 1TB of RAM. After launching the Cisco IT elastic infrastructure services, code-named CITEIS, Flores says there was a collective thinking internally of, "What's next?" For Cisco, it was platform as a service (PaaS).

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Some say the future of cloud computing is not on the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) layer, but instead on the platform as a service (PaaS) layer, where enterprises can build and launch applications that are run in the cloud.

But PaaS hasn't quite seen the market adoption that the IaaS and software as a service (SaaS) layers have. Gartner estimates PaaS is a $1.2 billion market compared to the $14 billion SaaS market and $6 billion IaaS market.

Flores says that's because many of the PaaS offerings on the market today are what he calls "Silicon Valley PaaS" vendors, who provide a place for organizations to build and construct new applications in the vendor's cloud. That's great for developers who don't want to worry about the underlying infrastructure the apps need, because it's all provided by the PaaS provider. Microsoft Azure, Heroku and AppFog provide such services, a literal platform for developers to build and launch applications in the cloud.

But Cisco already has infrastructure to run its apps on. Flores says the company has built its IaaS using its own hardware, the Cisco Intelligent Automation series, which includes the Cisco Cloud Portal and Cisco Process Orchestration, running VMware vCloud Director. Cisco is "drinking its own champagne," Flores jokes. But just having VMs that employees can spin up doesn't do anything for new applications that would run on that cloud. "(Silicon Valley PaaS) is great if you're starting from scratch," he says. Cisco needed a private PaaS.

The company turned to rPath, a PaaS provider that offers a framework for application development, allowing organizations like Cisco to leverage their current infrastructure while automating the cumbersome aspects of application development. In this model, Cisco employees can now not only request and spin up a range of VMs, but have a platform available to just as easily order an Apache Web server or Oracle Web Logic platform.

The PaaS layer sits above the infrastructure and automates the provisioning of operating systems, databases, application servers and configurations needed to build apps. "Apps don't run on infrastructure, they run on a platform," rPath CTO Brett Adam says.

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Since rolling out the rPath PaaS, Cisco has become a reference customer for rPath and in turn rPath has created a tour discussing the Cisco implementation, which it now calls an enterprise cloud adoption framework.

Adam says there are a few keys to ensuring this process works. An important one is having an image library. This is a place to store virtual images of apps and the supporting software stacks that they run on. This gives users a "shopping cart" of features that can be plugged into an app, just as there is a shopping cart of VM instances that users can choose from on the IaaS layer. Users also need the ability to create their own software images, such as third-party applications that can be leveraged by the app developer.

Adam says the takeaway is that enterprises with an IaaS internal private cloud can automate the next layer above infrastructure in the cloud. Doing so, with tools like an rPath or from any other number of providers, such as Apprenda, give employees the speed to create custom-built apps at their service.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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