Cisco, VMware, NetApp testing multi-tenant cloud

The three are likely creating a service to sell to colo data centers, but this puts Cisco closer to a cloud of its own

Yesterday NetApp revealed that Cisco, VMware and NetApp are testing an end-to-end secure multi-tenancy platform.  While it is well known that the three data center amigos have been feverishly pitching their joint so-called "private cloud" architecture, private clouds are built for the exclusive use of one company. A multi-tenancy infrastructure has but one purpose, to allow multiple companies to share the same hardware. It is a cloud service.

The news was announced via a Tweet from an event employee during a live event in San Jose where the three vendors were pitching their vision of "The Virtualized Dynamic Data Center." Although I wasn't there, the two-hour spiel was likely the roadshow version of the architectural paper the three released in May." However, Cisco confirmed the project with me.

It remains unclear whether their multi-tenant solution would eventually be put to use as a cloud built by one of them (with Cisco perhaps the most likely), or if this is a package to be exclusively peddled to existing colo data center service providers. It exists right now as a "validated design" and may remain that way, left for the data centers and system integrators to build on their own.

Regardless of how it might be sold, should the three engineer a solid platform, it could be good for enterprises wanting the lower costs that clouds promise, but fearful of the shared-infrastructure risks.

Today, the sharing of infrastructure is mostly done the software-as-a-service way, at the database level, says George Gilbert, partner of TechAlpha, a strategy consulting firm to the technology industry. The database keeps track of who owns which element.

But many companies want better security, more control for compliance needs and just plain more isolation than SaaS clouds can provide -- especially when they are shifting their own apps to the cloud. What the three amigos would be building would be take the server, storage, network component and partition them so that they think they own the joint but they are really sharing the underlying physical hardware.

With VMware involved in this venture, it is clear that the server involved would be a virtual machine, but given Cisco's recent emergence as a server vendor, its probably not going too far out on a limb to speculate that the platform would use Cisco's Unified Computing platform as well.

Gilbert, (who, by the way has no direct knowledge of the multi-tenant platform, but closely follows all-things cloud infrastructure), notes that a multi-tenant solution would extend what the three amigos are pitching today for private clouds. Cisco's Unified Computing platform includes what he terms a "big innovation" in its "Service Profiles" function. This allows it to spoof a server/network configuration so that the applications believe that they have the exact same configuration that they had on a dedicated server.

While Gilbert agrees with me that this is one more step towards Cisco launching its own cloud offering, he's not sold on the idea. "I've heard rumblings of this but I think they are jointly wanting to outfit public data centers. I think it's less likely that Cisco would build them. There are capital expanses, bricks, power distribution, that I doubt Cisco wants to take on," he said.

Still it's worth noting that Cisco has been slowly inching toward its own cloud offering. The company currently sells a cloud-based secure e-mail service, it owns WebEx and the no-longer-with-the-company Doug Gourlay recently said that WebEx may "someday" be built out to offer Office applications, competing with the likes of Microsoft and Google.

<sub>Posted by Cisco Subnet editor, Julie Bort</sub>

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