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Cisco, Microsoft cooperation on virtual switching gives customers new option

Microsoft Hyper-V will be more attractive, but VMware has a sizable lead

By , Network World
September 26, 2011 06:00 AM ET

Network World - Cisco support will make Microsoft's Hyper-V environment more attractive to corporate customers, but it remains to be seen whether that's enough for Hyper-V to give VMware's ESXi a run for its money.

Cisco says it will offer virtual switch support for Hyper-V that is similar to what it already offers to VMware environments via its Nexus 1000v virtual switch, meaning a richer network layer view of what's going on among virtual machines.

The collaboration of Cisco and Microsoft will give customers better monitoring and control of the virtual environment than they would get with the current option -- using the native virtual switch that ships with Hyper-V, says Mike Spanbauer, principal analyst with Current Analysis. "There's simply more features than within the [Cisco] switch," he says. "There are more network features to support a more manageable environment."

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Spanbauer says it's not clear what effect Cisco's support for Microsoft will have on the percentage of customers that choose Hyper-V over ESXi, a battle that currently is pretty convincingly being won by ESXi. "This will further extend visibility and control so the network team can manage and influence data flows and have some handle on the performance of the entire environment," Spanbauer says.

But customers using VMware instead will have similar improved visibility. "My guess is that it will be close if not equitable," he says.

How big a deal this will be when it comes time for enterprises to pick a virtual environment isn't clear. "It's hard to determine how influential network insight is to virtual-platform choice," he says. Customers ultimately will decide based on whether the Hyper-V option solves specific problems they are having managing cloud deployments, he says.

The decision won't be made just based on that, though. Factors such as storage, memory and licensing issues will all weigh into what customers ultimately choose, he says.

Cisco's support for Hyper-V will come next year only after Microsoft releases Windows Server 8, which includes Hyper-V 3.0 and its augmented virtual-switch capabilities.

Cisco says it will offer two ways to peek inside Hyper-V physical machines to mine network-layer information about Hyper-V virtual machines and to extend Cisco network-layer monitoring, management and configuration to them.

The first is a version of Cisco's Nexus 1000V Series switch designed to support Hyper-V. It is a distributed virtual switch that fits Hyper-V virtual machines with virtual Ethernet cards that can be managed via another component of the switch, Cisco's Virtual Supervisor Module.

The supervisor module is tightly integrated with Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager, Cisco says, which will enable customers to set separate privileges for different classes of administrators. The Virtual Supervisor Module can be deployed on a physical appliance or on a virtual machine. The entire distributed switch can be hosted on a Cisco physical appliance called Nexus 1010 Virtual Services Appliance.

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