Cisco's network-centric view of the virtual data center

With VFrame, the company plans on pulling together server and storage resources, as well as network capacity, to meet an application’s demand

Cisco VFrame Data Center promises to provision on demand the resources needed to keep a virtual data center running, but industry watchers speculate if a network approach to technologies predominantly being used for systems and applications will be anything more than a complementary tool.

Cisco plans to claim its piece of the virtual data-center pie with products that automatically provision, manage and optimize virtualized environments.

Cisco's technology would pull together the server and storage resources and network capacity needed to meet an application's demand. Using the network to provision computing resources intrigues some industry watchers.

"The Cisco approach overall is very interesting because it is contrary to what the computing vendors tell you. Cisco's take is that the network will be the place for the orchestration and allocation of virtual pools of network, storage, servers and application resources," says Zeus Kerravala, a senior vice president at Yankee Group. "The network does touch everything, so it makes sense that eventually the network could be the orchestrator for virtual environments," he says.

Cisco's vision has manifested itself thus far in its VFrame Data Center appliance. With the appliance, an enterprise could make many server resources appear as one large, virtual pool and stitch together the needed components to deliver a service across a virtual infrastructure.

Management-software providers favor a more application-oriented model for adequately provisioning, managing and optimizing virtual resources.

"We can take a server, and we can install an operating system, infrastructure software and applications. It is a much more elaborate set of capabilities than VFrame's, which is focused on network configuration and network-equipment-related installation activity," says Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM software group. "I would view what we do and what VFrame does as fairly complementary actually," he says.

Industry watchers agree that Cisco and other network-equipment makers, such as Enterasys and F5 Networks (with its acquisition of Acopia Networks), will play a role in optimizing virtual data centers. It remains unclear, however, whether such vendors could take the lead with a network-centric approach. The technology is necessary as part of a larger strategy, but industry watchers say Cisco and others will have to work with computing and software vendors to offer a complete product set.

"VFrame is an ambitious effort to reduce the complexity associated with provisioning and configuring virtual servers by leveraging a model-based paradigm and virtualizing the I/O interfaces," says Cameron Haight, research vice president at Gartner. "It's too early to tell if the VFrame approach is the right way to go or not, but the need for something like this, which automates configuration-related activities across dependent infrastructure-technology elements, is pretty clear," he says.

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