Cisco sees UCS as key cloud building block

WebEx is successful SaaS player, but Cisco's strategic focus is enabling cloud infrastructures

With scores of new cloud companies popping up and so many existing players jumping on the cloud bandwagon, we wondered where the traditional enterprise networking vendors stood?

Slideshow: 10 most powerful cloud companies

Were they guilty of "cloudwashing" - slapping the cloud label on existing products? Were they ignoring the cloud and risking getting left in the dust? Were they scrambling to re-invent themselves as cloud service providers?

Turns out that companies like Cisco and Juniper, CA and Citrix are sticking to their core strengths and positioning themselves as enablers of the cloud, providing the underlying hardware and software just like they've been doing for enterprise and service provider customers for decades.

Cloud computing disrupts the vendor landscape

The only place Cisco plays directly in the cloud is in the SaaS arena with its WebEx collaboration, video and telepresence services, which account for about $1 billion of Cisco's $40 billion in annual revenue.

"But where we're really focused on is enabling people to build public clouds," says Lew Tucker, Cisco's CTO of Cloud computing, using Cisco's networking know-how, its reputation in both the enterprise and carrier markets, and, of course, its gear.

"But we also know that it's not easy to stand up a cloud," says Tucker, who was hired 14 months ago to develop Cisco's cloud strategy. Before coming to Cisco, Tucker was first vice president at Salesforce.com where he oversaw the development of AppExchange. And then he served as CTO at Sun where he was responsible for building Sun Cloud, an early IaaS platform targeting Java developers.

"While there are many different clouds out there, there is an underlying cloud model that we all adhere to. We want the cloud infrastructure to have a pool of server, networking and storage resources that we virtualize and turn into a service for applications to take advantage of," Tucker says.

At the center of Cisco's cloud enablement strategy is its Unified Computing System (UCS), which is an enterprise class blade-based platform that tightly integrates server and networking functions. Cisco introduced UCS in 2009. Tucker qualifies UCS sales as "very successful" and industry reports say that as of August there were 7,400 UCS customers, 2,000 of whom were added in the previous quarter .

Cisco is also attacking cloud from another angle with its strategic partnership with EMC, VMware and Intel in a joint venture called the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) Company. This is way to give cloud providers an integrated infrastructure platform that will greatly speed up their time to market. VCE is headquartered in Dallas and sells its products as pre-integrated sets of Cisco switching and UCS servers, EMC storage, and virtualization provided by VMware.

Cisco is also throwing its weight behind OpenStack, the open source cloud computing effort originally spurred by Rackspace. Tucker says Cisco is working with 14 other vendors to define a virtualized networking service called Quantum to help developers write applications that can inherently take advantage of more interesting network topologies and embedded network services.

"Essentially, we want developers to be able to spin up isolated virtualized L2 networks just as if they were spinning up virtual machines," Tucker says. 

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