Cisco made several product announcements at its Networker's conference this week, all under the "Data Center 3.0" slogan. Other than that they're all designed for the data center, there's little real connection between them, but this doesn't mean that Cisco lacks an overall plan. For the first time, it has spelled out the endgame of its virtualization strategy, which looks increasingly like the end of physical servers as we know them.
There are three main new products:
• VFrame Data Center. The most ambitious announcement, this is an appliance based on VFrame, the virtualization management software that Cisco acquired with Topspin in 2005. Whereas Topspin was focused on InfiniBand and storage, the new VFrame DC appliance is designed for IP, and for other resources besides storage. Cisco describes it as a platform for orchestrating network, server and storage resources into new virtual services, offering an API that developers can build on. According to Cisco, the API isn't simply an interface to program the VFrame DC, but an interface to program the network itself.
In practical terms, this means that Cisco is in competition with many of its software and server partners, though of course Cisco denies that. It claims that a network device is far more powerful than mere software, offering deeper visibility into the application stack: Whereas management software could only see the virtual resources, a network appliance can look inside packets all the way from Layer 1 to 7, understanding what hardware a virtual service depends on.
There may be some truth to this: Cisco is certainly right about the problem of mapping the virtual to the physical, but there's no reason
that the same can't be done in software. VFrame DC is essentially middleware in a box, abstracting multiple resources into a single API,
so its success will depend on the API's adoption by developers. Cisco says that it is working with developer partners, but can't announce anything yet, though the API is also open to customers and ISVs.