Cisco Jumps on the Azure Bandwagon

    The perception of the hybrid cloud is proving to be quite different from reality. All along, the aim has been to craft identical cloud environments on internal and external third-party infrastructure to allow workloads and applications to seamlessly traverse the two.

    In practice, however, issues like networking speeds, coding requirements, performance variances and a host of other factors make this ungainly at best, and impossible at worst.

    Still, every challenge is an opportunity, and in this case it is leading to a number of industry partnerships aimed at shoring up the deficiencies of the hybrid cloud.

    The latest example of this is Cisco’s recent tie-up with Microsoft that will place the Azure Stack on Cisco’s UCS server platform. The goal is to provide an easily deployable, cloud-ready solution for the data center that can support infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service architectures for highly scalable, dynamic workloads. The system, due out later this year, features a new Cisco Virtual Interface Card optimized to support Azure across a fabric-based network while at the same time integrating management and automation of compute, services and networking for up to 20 hybrid clouds (both Azure- and non-Azure-based) through the Cisco One Enterprise Cloud Suite management system.

    The move marks a departure for Cisco, which, until late last year, was one of the last major enterprise vendors aiming to provide a full hybrid cloud on its own. The company announced in December that it will pull the plug on its InterCloud platform at the end of March, says Geekwire’s Dan Richman, with clients’ workloads shifted to other providers. The venture was apparently the victim of the same forces that have doomed other such efforts, namely, the massive scale and low price points available from hyperscale providers like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. This was a double whammy for Cisco because it not only meant the enterprises had less reason to deploy proprietary networking gear in their own data centers, but the leading providers were increasingly turning to ODM solutions of their own designs for their massive internal infrastructure. By siding with Azure in support of hybrid solutions, Cisco hopes to reverse both trends.

    For Microsoft, the deal marks the continuation of a trend to capture the lion’s share of the lucrative enterprise cloud market while ceding bulk storage and consumer-level services to rivals like Amazon and Google.’s Aidan Finn notes that in recent months, the company has teamed up with other leading server OEMs like HPE, Lenovo and Dell to integrate the Azure Stack on their platforms as well. This gives the company a wedge into local data center infrastructure via the normal hardware refresh cycle that virtually every enterprise employs, which Microsoft can then leverage to provide critical services like disaster recovery, operations management and remote desktop support. And since most enterprises already use key Microsoft operating systems and middleware like Server and Office, they can integrate these disparate platforms without too much fuss.

    Microsoft is also taking steps to ensure that Azure has a role to play in emerging Big Data and IoT environments. The company recently aligned with Teradata to deploy its scale-out warehousing and analytics platform on Azure, which should give the enterprise a means to rapidly deploy Big Data infrastructure using a range of payment options. The solution can scale up to 32 nodes at the moment, with features like automated failover, recovery and backup/query services using the Azure Blob storage platform. The setup is to be made available on the Azure Marketplace, which should allow enterprises familiar with both platforms to create working environments in less than an hour.

    To be sure, the hybrid cloud will continue to have its problems despite the integration efforts between traditional enterprise vendors and cloud providers. And in all likelihood it will never provide the digital nirvana touted in the early hype cycle.

    But it does stand a good chance of providing a data environment that is uniquely suited to applications and services propelling the emerging digital economy. This will take not only systems and platform integration, of course, but the synchronization of data, applications, virtual/container management, and a host of other resources that make up the hybrid data environment.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    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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