In the Cloud: Strength Through Diversity

    The race is on among top IT platform vendors to establish themselves as leaders in the new private cloud industry.

    The problem is, no one provider seems to have all the tools at its disposal to implement a fully realized infrastructure. Whether you are a networking company like Cisco, a virtualization company like VMware, or a software provider like Microsoft, there are major gaps in your portfolio when it comes to implementing the kind of private/hybrid architectures that can meet modern enterprise expectations.

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    To be fair, it was like this in the old days as well, with top providers like IBM and HP constantly turning to third-party providers to supplement their platforms. In the cloud, however, so many moving parts make it difficult to organize various components into a cohesive whole.

    But try we must, which is why the deal-making and technology sharing continues at a fevered pitch.

    The latest match-up is between Cisco and Microsoft, which just announced a range of system integrations aimed at speeding up the conversion of today’s virtual infrastructure into full-fledged clouds. The broad view is that the pair is uniting the Cisco Unified Data Center platform with Microsoft’s Fast Track architecture as a means to improved deployment and management of integrated cloud systems. But within that framework, there is a range of options when it comes to building actual clouds.

    For instance, there is new-found compatibility between the Nexus 1000V virtual switch and the Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V extensible switch. Tie both of those to the System Center Virtual Machine Manager and you have a robust means of integrating physical, virtual and cloud infrastructure. Throw in the UCS UI add-on to System Center and you get a centralized control mechanism that provides a single view of the entire architecture through System Center.

    The interesting part, however, is how these kinds of agreements seem to enhance certain vendors’ abilities to foster cloud environments without letting one company dominate, at least so far. For example, by linking up with the Nexus switch, Microsoft opens the door for rival operating systems and hypervisors like Red Hat’s KVM and the Citrix Xen hypervisor, both of which are already or about to be plugged into the 1000V. Also note that the 1000V does not have to run on a Cisco UCS server – any x86 machine will do.

    For a company like VMware, which already has the virtual stack in hand, plus storage support through its parent EMC, the last piece of the puzzle was networking. Fortunately, a small company called Nicira came along just in time to provide a truly virtual network solution – for a small acquisition fee of $1.26 billion. The result is the VMware NSX platform, which is essentially a mash-up of the Nicira NVP system and the vCloud Network and Security stack. In this way, enterprises can deploy a full cloud-ready networking infrastructure, complete with logical switches and routers, firewalls, monitoring and security on top of any commodity hardware and compatible with any hypervisor or cloud management stack.

    Open platforms are forging ahead with new software-defined networking capabilities, as well. The OpenStack Foundation recently unveiled the Grizzly release, designed to integrate multiple hypervisors like ESX, KVM and Hyper-V into broadly extensible cloud infrastructure. Through a component called Quantum, the system allows network vendors to write their own network control applications that allow virtual machines to compile specialized network environments. Already, the system has gained the backing of Cisco, Brocade, Big Switch, NEC and others, offering the possibility of highly diverse, yet tightly integrated, cloud-friendly networking environments.

    All of this cooperation in the vendor community presents both a challenge and an opportunity to the enterprise. On the one hand, cloud environments will come in a wide variety of flavors offering varying levels of optimization and customization for specific data environments and business operations. But wading through all those options and selecting just the right fit for your organization will require a fair bit of homework and then a lengthy period of experimentation.

    As this process unfolds, the IT mindset will have to change from “We need to get the cloud” to “We need to get the cloud right.”

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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