How EMC, Cisco and VMware are building the next-generation virtual data centre

ORLANDO, Fla. – If IT managers can get over their natural conservatism to change and embrace cloud computing, an executive with storage vendor EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) believes they’ll realize significant benefits from the more flexible and agile infrastructure. And if they can’t get over it, their users may just demand it anyway.

Speaking as part of an EMC World user conference panel with executives from networking vendor Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) and virtualization vendor VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) to discuss the companies’ technology alliance and vision for the next-generation data centre, Chuck Hollis, vice-president and CTO, global marketing with EMC, said IT managers are paid to be conservative, but the three companies are now able to allay many of their cloud concerns.

“There’s an optimistic mood to experiment with new things,” said Hollis. “They’re setting up private clouds. Not with critical data, but just testing and getting comfortable. Those that are doing it are very excited. It’s a low-touch-management experience.”

In the end, though, it may be the user base that drives the adoption of cloud computing within the enterprise and “private clouds” that reside on-premise, marking a dynamic shift in the way IT departments provision and deliver services to their users.

“In a certain sense, the internal cloud is just a user revolt saying to IT, ‘Can you just stop playing with knobs and give me what I need, now?’” said Hollis.

The three vendors are developing interoperable products and working together to refine their vision for the next-generation virtual data centre, which will see cloud and traditional computing resources working together seamlessly through a single management experience. Enterprises like a vision that allows them to leverage their existing infrastructure, said Hollis, something that cloud-centric offerings such as Amazon cannot. And the key to making it work is virtualization.

“Virtualization, especially VMware, provides the necessary migration path to the cloud,” said Hollis. “I’m willing to go on the record as saying this shows every sign of being the dominant model for IT evolution over the next three years.”

Ed Bugnion, CTO of the server access and virtualization business unit at Cisco, said the cloud has three pillars. The first is virtualization, which allows the IT paradigm to shift from controlling hardware to controlling resources. The second is networking, and the network within the data centre. The third one is more challenging, said Bugnion, and that’s scale.

“Cisco has invested in core networking products such as Nexus with scale for next-generation data centre,” said Bugnion. “We’re focused on designing products that are aware of virtualization and are able to leverage its advantages. The Cisco UCS platform is about creating the highly scalable building bock for next generation data centre.”

Parag Patal, vice-president of alliances with VMware, said their work has revolved around the three things they keep hearing from customers. The first is that their IT spend is increasingly going to maintaining existing infrastructure, leaving little budget to innovate and little flexibility to adapt to changing business needs. The second is that most companies are saddled with rigid infrastructures that can’t adapt, and the third is business agility.

“There’s a tremendous thirst out there for fundamentally changing how we manage our IT resources,” said Patal. “There are vendors who say I’ve got everything, look at my catalogue. We think that model is fundamentally broken. It hasn’t worked for years.”

With the fourth generation of its vSphere virtualization infrastructure, Patel said VMware feels it has an operating system (OS) for the data centre that lets it bring a lot of that flexibility to market.

The Competitive Landscape: Microsoft and Oracle

Don’t look for the three data centre amigos to become a foursome anytime soon by adding Microsoft Corp. Patel said cloud computing demands applications and infrastructure that’s not fixed to a certain operating system or a certain mentality.

“For Microsoft to be up here they’ve got to really accept that notion and get out of the mentality they’ve been in, which is very Windows-based,” said Patal. “The world is shifting to a third dimension, and everyone that is stuck in their old two-dimensional paradigms is missing that.”

EMC’s Hollis added Microsoft is a strong EMC partner with its application portfolio, but when it comes to virtualization, VMware is the stronger player.

“The key for this is virtualization technology that scales, and right now we can’t get that from Microsoft,” said Hollis. “We believe that virtualization that scales is the secret sauce.”

As for Oracle, which has caught the eye of many in the storage and virtualization arenas with its Sun Microsystems and Virtual Iron acquisitions, Hollis said the pieces may be there for Oracle to challenge in the data centre, but putting them together will be tricky. Cisco’s Bugnion added Oracle’s view tends to me more vertical and monolithic, while Cisco sees a desire for more diversity and choice.

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