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Nick Carr's Cloud-Network Disconnect

Virtualization and cloud computing are promising to change the way in which IT services are delivered

The VMotion Paradox
VMotion is the ability of a virtual machine image on a hypervisor to move to another hypervisor without having to swap cables and/or physically move a server.  This capability was especially powerful in development and test environments, where images of software could be easily saved, updated, moved online and/or offline or even across multiple distinct hypervisors with minimal effort. 

As VMotion moves from DevTest to production environments it enables new levels of consolidation and utilization.  Servers and desktops can be spun up as needed and moved with minimal effort.  This automation of once manual tasks produces impressive tactical breakthroughs in power consumption and system automation, and is one of the key drivers of virtualization in production data centers today.

In a heterogeneous data center environment (and especially a cloud of data centers) that level of movement is a double-edged sword.  If VMs could easily move from one security zone to another there would be an even larger, strategic payoff; yet today's manually managed network isn't ready to support such powerful innovation. 

Networks simply aren't equipped with the connectivity intelligence required to keep up with dynamic systems and endpoints.  Many enterprises are already feeling the pain of rising (per unit) IT diseconomies.  Adding higher velocities of change would drive costs even higher, offsetting any system automation and/or energy gains.  Automating systems attached to manually managed networks is, after all, the CIO Shell Game.

That's part of the reason analysts and pundits will be paying greater attention to cloud revenue and margins relative to Google and Amazon and other "cloud" players.  Whoever cracks the VMotion code (of security, scale and network automation within a heterogeneous IT environment) first will have considerable advantages. 

Microsoft's knowledge of enterprise requirements and applications put the company in a unique position if it doesn't get bogged down in "installed base" application and OS dilemmas.  Yet it isn't a networking player.  There is a chasm between the endpoint and the system that the software vendors will have to cross.

This gets us back to Cisco and Juniper in the once irrelevant cloud network space.  Both seemed intent on making strategic partnerships a core part of their strategy (versus Microsoft's frontal assault on established leader VMware).  Cisco has been faster to embrace Infrastructure 2.0 (or dynamic infrastructure) and Juniper has recently aligned with IBM, who recently held its own Dynamic Infrastructure forum.

The decision by Cisco to invest in VMware and partner I think will be a force multiplier in the cloud relevance and delivery battle.  If Cisco can tackle the network management and automation issues inherent with VMotion it could unleash incredible cost and energy savings (which could drive a new business case for the network upgrades required) and deliver on Carr's promise; as Carr continues to pamper Google and Amazon with incredible, unproven visions.

F5 and others are also strategically positioned when it comes to application delivery requirements.  Rather than sheer customer footprint, those who embrace automation and intelligence in the network will have a (yet misunderstood) strategic advantage when it comes to monetizing and optimizing on Carr's vision.  While Google, Amazon and even Salesforce position themselves as cloud players I think it will be the network vendors who end up selling the picks and shovels to the miners.

Scaling IT will require Unprecedented Automation
Cisco is strategically placed to deliver other breakthroughs in network and system management via a renewed emphasis on "unified computing" partnerships.  I think that will ultimately include a range of strategic players on the team who would ultimately join to be the "cloud standard".  I think that standard will likely have to include dynamic network intelligence regarding endpoints, switches, core network services like DNS, DHCP and IP address management.  After all, cloud CIOs would need real-time views into all IT assets.

That standard will be a competitive advantage if Cisco pulls it off.

Cisco would also need dynamic policies that would follow the movement of assets instead of being decoupled by VMotion.  They would need networks capable of transporting large amounts of data in bursts across the mesh, while delivering on the promise of high availability and quality of service.  All of these factors, including the diseconomies of scale mentioned earlier need to be addressed before Carr's Big Switch will be flipped on.

Carr's cloud is a head fake for CIOs who don't fully understand the network effects of system mobility.  While Amazon and Google deserve recognition for making cloud computing into the buzz of 2009, it was VMotion that ultimately unleashed the promise of cloud computing by breaking the VLAN barrier and introducing massive potentials for server and desktop mobility. Yet until VMotion can be unleashed on motion-ready networks, it will be well-grounded in short term, tactical gains.  Hence the questions about the scalability and economics of large, multi-tenant cloud environments on today's kludge network managed by armies of clerks.

That's why I think the Cisco and VMware relationship is strategically significant, and why VMware's recent vShield Zones announcement may be a harbinger (that virtualization and cloud will steam ahead and surprise today's "thought leaders" with unintended consequences and revitalize the network industry or at least those who get it).

You can get my thoughts in real-time at www.twitter.com/archimedius. I'll also be moderating a cloud panel on May 18 at Interop and a dynamic infrastructure panel at Future in Review.  If you're attending either event feel free to stop by and say hello.  Or you can simply join the conversation here.

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Gregory Ness is the VP of Marketing of Vidder and has over 30 years of experience in marketing technology, B2B and consumer products and services. Prior to Vidder, he was VP of Marketing at cloud migration pioneer CloudVelox. Before CloudVelox he held marketing leadership positions at Vantage Data Centers, Infoblox (BLOX), BlueLane Technologies (VMW), Redline Networks (JNPR), IntruVert (INTC) and ShoreTel (SHOR). He has a BA from Reed College and an MA from The University of Texas at Austin. He has spoken on virtualization, networking, security and cloud computing topics at numerous conferences including CiscoLive, Interop and Future in Review.