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Cisco's Virtualization Play With Windows Server 8

Networking giant plans to meld its Nexus 1000V virtual switch and Virtual Machine Fabric Extender with Windows Server 8 Hyper-V hypervisor.

Windows 8 Visual Tour: Microsoft's New Desktop
Windows 8 Visual Tour: Microsoft's New Desktop
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
Cisco, like all the tech companies that play in Microsoft's Windows world, are busy aligning their product road maps with that of Windows Server 8, the new operating system due out sometime next year. Cisco's strategy is to pull ahead in networking virtualization by marrying its Nexus 1000V virtual network switch and Virtual Machine Fabric Extender with Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor.

Cisco announced its Server 8 strategy in a follow-up to its participation, along with others, in Microsoft's BUILD Conference Sept. 13 in Anaheim, Calif., where the software giant previewed Server 8 previewed Windows Server 8 and the Windows 8 OS for desktop, laptop, and tablet computers.

The Nexus 1000V virtual switch (the "V" is for virtual) is a software switch and an extension of the Nexus line of physical network switches first introduced in 2008. The 1000V already runs in VMware's virtualization environment and running in Hyper-V is next, said Prashant Gandhi, senior director for the Cisco Server, Access, and Virtualization Technology Group, who says the idea is to operate the virtual network as an extension of the physical one.

[ Virtualization is a key strategy for many companies. Learn How To Achieve 100% Virtualization ]

"You get simplicity from a management perspective because one is able to manage both the physical infrastructure and the virtual infrastructure at the same point," Gandhi said.

The Nexus 1000V is paired with Virtual Machine Fabric Extender (VM-FEX) that enables traffic from end points on the network to be sent to a master physical switch where the network policies and controls are applied, he explained. VM-FEX aggregates the traffic from virtual servers and then sends it upstream to the switch that is the control point.

"The real benefit of Fabric Extender is to be able to manage a large number of ports using fewer control points. It's really an operational benefit to customers," Gandhi said.

Combining the 1000V and VM-FEX with Hyper-V also consumes fewer CPUs than without the integration as data flows from the virtual servers to the physical switch and back again with the proper control and security policies applied, he added.

The 1000V and VM-FEX also integrate with a number of Cisco security and management software including Virtual Security Gateway, Adaptive Security Appliance, Wide Area Acceleration Service, and the Network Analysis Module.

That Nexus 1000V and VM-FEX extend management of the physical Nexus switches to the virtual Nexus switches is a design plus, said Jon Oltsik, an analyst with Enterprise Strategies Group.

"This gives customers a common management model and they can easily support their internal network policies from a single place," Oltsik said, adding that customers can also use Nexus 1000V with Cisco virtual services for tasks like firewalling, intrusion detection, and intrusion prevention security functions. Oltsik had detected early widespread deployment of the 1000V in VMware environments, particularly when integrated with Cisco's Unified Computing System infrastructure. "This makes it easier to provision virtual and physical server hardware, network switches, and storage. It's really a 'no-brainer' if you go with UCS," he said.

The release of Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 from Microsoft is more than a year out, but this is the busy season for other vendors that develop software and hardware to run on Microsoft's operating systems, said Cisco's Gandhi.

"A lot of people are trying to get a sense of capabilities early on so they can plan and architect an environment because once they make architectural choices, it's very difficult for them to go back and redo that," he said.

You can't afford to keep operating without redundancy for critical systems--but business units must prioritize before IT begins implementation. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek SMB supplement: Avoid the direct-attached storage trap. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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