How Cisco wants to win in the cloud

And why it will be difficult

Cisco is making a big bet ($1 billion in fact) on the cloud, but it's going to have a battle winning it against the likes of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google, each of which have their own strong plans in this crowded market.

Cisco today announced it would work during the next couple of years to build up its Intercloud, a sort of schmorgesborg of offerings. It includes both public, private and hybrid cloud architectures. It has an IaaS, PaaS and SaaS component. It's based off of OpenStack, but it will support a variety of hypervisors and platforms. It will be run by Cisco, but it's not meant to compete with its service provider customers.

Cloud watchers took to Twitter to express skepticism:

Cisco and Partners to Build [Intercloud] <That's a big bite, better chew thoroughly

— Carl Brooks (@eekygeeky) March 24, 2014


"We’ll support any workload, on any hypervisor and interoperate with any cloud." Lofty ambitions for #Cisco #Intercloud.

— Torsten Volk (@TorstenVolk) March 24, 2014

Cisco's Intercloud offering has a couple of major themes with it.

-It's OpenStack!

The company plans to use the open source framework OpenStack to build this offering. This accomplishes a couple of things. First of all, it's a big boost for OpenStack, which Cisco is a big backer of. The vice chairman of OpenStack's board of directors is Cisco's cloud CTO, Lew Tucker. "This is exactly the type of highly scalable platform project that OpenStack was initially conceived for," says Torsten Volk, the Enterprise Management Associates analyst quoted above. "There will be plenty of 'secret sauce' from Cisco to gloss over the current shortcomings of OpenStack though."

Using OpenStack also differentiates Cisco with one of its biggest competitors in the cloud: Amazon Web Services. Whether true or not, OpenStack has a connotation with it of being more open, alleviating customer fears of vendor lock in. Intercloud, by its namesake, hopes to be about giving customers choices of running workloads however they please, in Cisco's cloud, in a partner's cloud, or in an OpenStack private cloud. "The Cisco OpenStack-enabled Intercloud is designed to allow organizations and users to combine and move workloads - including data and applications - across different public or private clouds as needed, easily and securely, while maintaining associated network and security policies," the press release states.

-Cisco will leverage its existing user base for its cloud

Cisco has a big leg up on many of its competitors given its deep roots in enterprise IT shops. Customers of Intercloud will be able to use familiar products like Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS), VCE vBlocks, and it's upcoming software defined networking products.

Cisco will likely make the pitch that it is the best destination for its customers' cloud workloads. And perhaps the company is right. But, Microsoft says the same thing for its customers. And VMware for its customers, and IBM for its too. "Cloud is all about the fabric and Cisco 'owns' most of that aspect," Volk went on to say in an email.

-What about the partners?

On the one hand, Cisco offering a cloud services opens up its partners to sell services and support on top of it. VMware is taking this approach too. But, inevitably there will be some overlap and some partners may get squeezed out by the move. Cisco likely felt it had to be part of the enterprise cloud market though, so it's willing to take that tradeoff.

-Hey, we're cloudies too!

And perhaps there is some corporate marketing maneuvering going on here as well. This is a busy week for cloud news. Cisco drops this bit today. Google has a web conference slated for tomorrow and WIRED is out with a feature piece on the company in preview of it today. Meanwhile, Microsoft is set to make some news this week in the cloud as well during an event which will be headlined by the company's new CEO, Satya Nadella, who used to run Microsoft's cloud program.

Surely Cisco didn't want to be left out of all these announcements this week, so why not scoop them all and make its own before? It leaves Cloud Chronicles wondering how the likes of AWS, IBM, Rackspace and Verizon will respond in turn.

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and He can be reached at and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW. Read his Cloud Chronicles here.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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