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Cisco eschews cloud services - for now

Strategy under ex-Sun cloud chief hinges on infrastructure, access, virtual networking

By , Network World
December 20, 2010 06:04 AM ET

Network World - Cisco's cloud strategy encompasses pretty much everything under the sun save one - actual cloud services.

Also read: Cisco's top rivals

Cisco vows, for the time being anyway, not to get into cloud services and compete with Amazon, Google and other cloud providers that may be Cisco customers, says the company's new cloud computing chief.

"Cisco's motto is to be the arms supplier," says Lew Tucker, Cisco's Cloud CTO, who joined the company about six months ago from Sun. "Cisco, right now, has no intention of being a cloud provider."

Cisco's strategy is based on three pillars: supplying infrastructure to cloud providers and enterprises; lining up partnerships to help customers deploy cloud services; and developing platforms and technologies to accelerate cloud adoption, through secure and collaborative access from tablets, TelePresence systems and IP phones.

Larry vs. Lew

At Sun, Tucker was heading up the company's effort to become a cloud service provider when Oracle acquired Sun. Tucker moved on to Cisco after Oracle CEO Larry Ellison showed little enthusiasm for Sun's cloud ambitions.

"I was building the Sun cloud, which was Sun Microsystems' attempt to go after essentially an Amazon-style developer cloud," Tucker says. "We were just ready to launch that at the time of the Oracle acquisition. Larry Ellison seemed to blow hot and cold on cloud computing, so that day he didn't like it. We closed that project and then I moved over to Cisco."

The Cisco approach to cloud differs from Sun's, however. Sun was looking to be a provider of cloud services for developers. Cisco is focused pretty squarely on the network infrastructure.

"Cloud computing is the next evolution of the Internet," Tucker says. "It draws upon a lot of those pathways of innovation Cisco has been involved in."

That's why Cisco's cloud strategy first and foremost relies on supplying infrastructure. Cisco supplies roughly 80% of the Internet's infrastructure and became a $40 billion company in 25 years by selling switches and routers to service providers and enterprises.

The same nuts and bolts used in those networks can also be used to build public and private clouds, Tucker asserts.

Cisco and partners

But Cisco is also counting on its partners, such as VMware, BMC Software, EMC, NetApp and others, to help customers deploy and provision cloud services. Cisco, EMC and VMware formed the VCE Coalition last year, an effort to integrate and uncomplicate the build-out of next-generation data centers by pre-packaging and certifying interoperability of servers, storage, networking and virtualization.

Some analysts say the VCE Coalition is a differentiator for Cisco in competing with IBM, HP, Oracle and Dell for cloud market-and mind-share.

"One of the things on Cisco's side and one of the issues with VCE is the fact that infrastructure is complex," says Chris Wolf, an analyst with Gartner. "When we're adding server virtualization or network virtualization or I/O virtualization in the data path, it gets that much more complex. Having a well-defined and endorsed architectural blueprint to draw out infrastructure as a service is something that customers have been very interested in."

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