Cisco’s Big Grab

August 31, 2009 at 10:02 am Leave a comment

“The worm has turned.”
– Hunter S. Thompson

It’s official:  2009 is the year that networking and computing merged. And the packets are hitting the fan.

The trends have been driving this direction for years.  How it all happened takes a long time to tell, but to summarize:
1.  Horsepower:  Servers continue their exponential price/performance drive, and networking software starts taking advantage of it.
2.  Greed:  Cisco ran out of market since they own most of it already, so they targeted the datacenter server market as a place to create new growth.

That’s the precarious setup: Networking runs well on servers now, and the largest networking vendor in the world decides they’re going into the server business.  Interesting combination of flammable gases… now light a match:

3. Flashpoint:  Virtualization pulls networking onto servers.

Whoa!  Michael Dell’s eyebrows just burned off.  How did this flashpoint happen?

Start by looking at a traditional data center. There are tons of servers and tons of network switches.  Cables connect the two, and networks are configured.  If you physically move a server you have to physically change the cables and the network configuration.

Now look at a virtualized data center. Virtual machines are all over the place, a few per server.  Each VM has to be connected to a switch, so the traffic can flow to and from it.  But if the VM is moved, the network connection just broke. Packets are all over the floor.

This obviously won’t stand; one of the key benefits of virtualization is flexibility to move VMs around willy-nilly. This is especially true in the ultimate virtualization play, cloud computing.  So how does this get fixed?

Enter the vSwitch, a software component of the virtualization layer.  VMWare has one; it runs on the server.   Cisco has one; it runs on the server.  There’s even an open-source vSwitch project, also server-based.  Any vendor offering a virtualization platform will include this kind of networking in it, out of necessity.

Things were heading this way before Cisco decided to get into the server biz, but it’s all a huge kerfuffle right now because they’ve been so calculating in their approach.  It takes some cheek — and a lot of fresh moves — to challenge IBM and HP on their own turf.  And Cisco may have underestimated the fight in the dog; IBM is now promoting other networking vendors instead, and HP is on them like a rottweiler on an olive loaf.

But lest we miss The Big Point, networking and computing are converging, driven by virtualization.  And Cisco has a grand plan to control it all. Their vSwitch has — hold onto your hats — PROPRIETARY PROTOCOLS!  This is the game they play better than any other company on the planet… and their plan is to do it all over again, this time with their proprietary vSwitch.  And if you think they’ll let other vendors interoperate easily with that control point, you’re in for a big, sorry surprise.  Cisco’s vSwitch is their Trojan Horse.

Other vendors are working their responses, but they’d better hurry.  Cisco’s out to steal their milk money.

Meanwhile, watching this industry trend unfold is an acknowledgment of the Vyatta vision.  From our inception over four years ago, Vyatta has been delivering a complete network OS that is portable to standard server hardware and popular virtual hypervisors.  The industry continues to move our way.

Thank you Cisco. Vyatta is more relevant than ever.


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