Cisco exec shares virtualization vision

Says Catalyst 6500 will play key role.

Cisco's John McCool shares his vision of data center virtualization.

John McCool took over for Jayshree Ullal when the longtime and very visible Cisco data center chief resigned in May. McCool is no stranger though – he came to Cisco in the Granite Networks acquisition during the industry's Gigabit Ethernet boom in the 1990s. Weeks into his new job as senior vice president of data center, switching and security, McCool shared some of Cisco's plans and visions with Managing Editor Jim Duffy.

What are your priorities as Cisco enters its 2009 fiscal year?

Driving the adoption of virtualized data centers, both around [the Nexus data center switch] but also around the installed base of [Catalyst] 6500s; consolidating services into the data center through wide-area applications support; and looking to drive the next-generation service plan.

What's the data center vision three to five years out?

The overarching vision is an environment that's going to add rich collaboration services to employees in the enterprise that would be location and device agnostic; and information increasingly being delivered by a virtualized data center, either on or off premise through a variety of sources.

How do you plan to further virtual machine-optimize the 6500?

We made major advancements last year in VM-ing that platform with VSS [Virtual Switching System]. What we saw as a general trend was a move to larger, flatter Layer 2 designs to support VM and virtual machine mobilization. The downsides of Layer 2 as we all know are spanning tree and spanning tree loops, so there are a lot of reasons people haven't done this in the past. With VSS, we allow customers to bond two 6500s and basically use what previously would have been an active and redundant link to their access switches both as active. So they double the bandwidth of their aggregate switching system and they eliminate spanning tree at the access edge. It's doing well for us in a lot of data center designs and specifically with customers that want to VM-ize their data centers. You'll continue to see innovations in that product line around those kind of techniques.

Can you shed any light on your "Big Bang" project for the campus? [Editor's note: Observers have been speculating that a significant upgrade for Cisco's campus product line, anchored by the aging Catalyst 6500 switch, could follow the recent overhauls of the data center and edge aggregation router product lines.]

No. I can't confirm or deny 'Big Bang.' 

Even before I took this role, I got that [commitment to the Catalyst 6500] question quite a bit. I got this before the Nexus coming out as well as when it did come out. We have a large installed base of 6500s; it is the most successful modular switch in history. Obviously, that's something Cisco wants to continue to drive.

What other areas are investment priorities?

Virtualizing services in the branch by centralizing those services in the data center. That's a trend that's here to stay.[Application Control Engine] and applications embedded into the network infrastructure would be another area that we'll continue to drive very heavily.

Do you plan to take virtualization above the network to the server or application level?

You see a component of that already in Unified I/O. So the I/O component, really virtualizing that over a single connection to the network, is very fundamental. And then being able to split that out further in the networking device. That's getting ingrained in the architecture of the data center, very much touching the connection to the server itself.

Do you plan to invest in another hypervisor vendor, similar to your relationship with VMware?

No announcements to date. We're continuing to work with all the hypervisor vendors. We are interested in virtualized data centers and to the extent that hypervisor and virtualized servers exist in the data center we think that's a very powerful construct for customers and one that's going to take network support.

Does Cisco plan to hypervisor-enable its operating systems?

That same trend of virtualization on the server actually applies to different levels in our operating systems even today. You can take the Nexus 7000 and operate it as separate virtual routers. We will definitely be exploiting modern software technology to take advantage of multiprocessors embedded in our products so that we can increase performance of either scaling control plane protocols or running different services on different processors. Some components of that exist today. We don't generally talk about the implementation details inside the box.

Does Cisco have a strategy to virtualize the desktop?

I would broaden that from the desktop of a computer to virtualization of information either on an application on a desktop PC or a mobile phone or mobile device. Part of our data center strategy is supporting a model that will virtualize information on any piece of glass.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in the virtualized environment?

Virtualization requires a degree of cross-discipline approach to the design of the infrastructure that we've never seen before. The security folks have to work tightly with the application folks and the network infrastructure people. And we see that in many different areas: people are starting to talk about spot cooling data centers based on application load. This requires people building out the air conditioning to understand application load. So you're going to see more cross-discipline conversations that have to happen in these virtualized data centers than we've ever seen before.

Does a virtualized environment break the data center security model?

It doesn't have to but it makes it more complicated. The power of virtualization in terms of reducing physical footprint, leveraging assets most effectively and reducing power consumption trump for a lot of enterprises the extra degree of complexity. Obviously, companies like Cisco have to help reduce that complexity.

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