Now that virtualization has evolved into a proven data center solution, attention is turning to how to optimize it to improve performance and make it scalable to thousands of systems. In partnership with VMware, Cisco wants to play a major role in taking virtualization to the next level, and on Tuesday at VMworld 2008 in Las Vegas, Cisco announced the technologies it will use to make it happen.

VMworld attendees gather around the Cisco booth for a presentation. The adjacent VMware booth can be seen in the background. Photo by Jason Hiner.

Cisco and VMware made a trio of join announcements at VMworld:

1. VN-Link and Cisco Nexus 1000V

Cisco stated:

“Virtual Network Link (VN-Link) technology on the Nexus 1000V will integrate with VMware’s vNetwork Distributed Switch framework to create a logical network infrastructure that will provide full visibility, control and consistency of the network.  The  solution will help network, virtualization and server teams to gain efficiency in virtual environments and obtain accurate, real-time data for stronger collaboration in troubleshooting.”

2. Accelerate virtual desktop performance with Cisco WAAS

Cisco stated:

“Cisco and VMware are collaborating to accelerate the use of desktop virtualization by improving the performance of end users’ virtual desktops across the WAN, enabling centralized and distributed printing for remote users, and enhancing backup and recovery automation… As published in the jointly developed whitepaper, the VDI architecture tested by Cisco and VMware illustrates up to a 65 percent improvement over native multi-user remote desktop protocol (RDP) in file and application access when using Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) and Cisco Application Control Engine (ACE) to optimize WAN protocols.”

3. Partnership in consulting, training, and certification

Cisco stated:

“Cisco and VMware also jointly offer virtualization consulting services to help customers create and deploy server, network and storage virtualization solutions across their data center that reduce costs by provisioning new applications quickly and more safely, while maintaining high levels of application performance. The  Cisco and VMware Virtualization Assessment Service and Cisco and VMware Planning and Design Service identify and close gaps in customers’ server, storage and network infrastructures to provide virtualized consolidated end-to-end architecture. “

Also, Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn, general manager of Learning@Cisco, said, “Cisco is working with VMware to develop training, education and career certifications for customers and resellers that align with architecture changes and new roles such as data center architect, data center builder, and data center technical operations professional.”

Scaling virtualization

Soni Jiandani, Cisco vice president of marketing in server access and virtualization, said that there are three challenges to scaling virtualization:

  1. Security and policy enforcement
  2. Lack of consistentcy in operations and management
  3. Problems with organization structure

Jiandani emphasized that VN-Link and the Nexus 1000V will help IT departments overcome these issues.

Theresa Regan, director of operations and infrastructure services for Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that she thinks the collaboration between Cisco and VMware will allow MIT to scale up its virtualization deployment.

“We are embracing server virtualization to help us save energy for cooling and to increase the efficiency of our data center space and resources. MIT has a variety of computing needs that require a consistent IT management model throughout our data center. What is cool about Cisco working together with VMware is that the service, security and operational ease of management policies in Cisco networking will be assignable across each virtual machine in VMware Infrastructure. This kind of innovation will help drive more use of virtualization in our campus.”

Bottom line

The Goldman Sachs CIO survey in July 2008 showed that server virtualization is the number one spending priority for CIOs in the next 12 months. Number two on the list was server consolidation, which typically involves virtualization as well.

Cisco knows that as virtualization increases, it puts greater emphasis on the performance and reliability of network infrastructure — its bread-and-butter business — so it has wisely decided to jump in with both feet to help improve virtualization and drive greater adoption.

Ed Bugnion, Cisco CTO of server access, said, “We’d like to accelerate the proliferation of virtualization.”

While the Cisco/VMware pact looks like one of those partnerships that is a clear win-win for both companies, the two of them also said they are committed to “open standards.” In other words, Cisco will likely do partnerships with Citrix and Microsoft on similar technologies, and VMware could do some similar deals with Juniper and Nortel. Both the partnerships and the choices are good signs for IT.