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Cisco's Big Plans: Data Center Business Advantage

Cisco is revamping its data center go-to market strategy from Data Center 3.0, which was focused on data center technologies to Data Center Business Advantage. The program positions various technology strategies under a common umbrella of solutions from networking through application delivery. The strategy rests on three pillars: Unified Fabric, which defines data and storage networking; Unified Network Services, which includes security services, application delivery, and network design and consulting; and finally, Unified Computing, which is Cisco servers. Cisco is including their partners in the strategy, using the recently announced Cisco/Citrix Virtual Desktop partnership.

The push behind Data Center Business Advantage is to try to raise the level of the center conversation from pure speeds and feeds to a conversation about business agility, competitive advantage and IT that is mapped to business objectives. It's a message we have heard before from Cisco, and other vendors trying to sell big hardware, but it's not a message about turning IT into a profit center or adding revenue to the top line. Rather, the focus is aimed at helping Cisco customers make the most out of their Nexus and UCS purchases.

Other large vendors have or are developing similar go-to-market strategies, laying out their plans not only for what their companies can do now, but in the future. Brocade is bringing together its strategy for unified data and storage networking. HP is still consuming 3Com and H3C into its networking portfolio and beefing up their security practice with the recent Arcsight acquisition, and we venture it won't be long before we hear about their plans. Where HP leads is in professional services, as evidenced by their Cloud Start program that combines equipment and consulting for a 30 day installation. Juniper has a vision for a unified, flat network, bringing security and application delivery features to the table. Others, like Alcatel-Lucent, Arista Networks, Extreme, Enterasys and Force-10 are getting their messages together. Considering that in a recent InformationWeek survey, a little more than half the respondents, 55 percent, expected to have between 0 and 50 percent of their data center servers virtualized by the end of 2011, the vendors are trying to lead the market by 12-18 months.

The reason is clear. To take advantage of virtualization and automation, customers are going to have to buy new data and Ethernet networking equipment, design new data center architectures, and adopt new management strategies. They are going to have to buy new equipment anyway, whether it's from their current vendor or a new one. That is a prime opportunity for customers to evaluate how well their current data center vendors are fulfilling their needs to and investigate alternatives. Speeds and feeds commoditize quickly, and data center purchases are going to be driven as much by integration strategies, product partnerships, and consistent management as they are by price and product support.

Technology wise, Cisco is at least six months ahead of their competition in implementing advanced networking like Ethernet multi-path networking with FabricPath, wide area Layer 2 connectivity with Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV) and virtualization aware networking with VN-Link. Granted, there are alternatives to linking Layer 2 networks over the WAN, like Carrier Ethernet and virtualization-aware networking is supported by means such as Arista Networks' recently announced direct integration with VMware, but few companies have articulated and started executing on their vision like Cisco has. Cisco knows that remaining dominant in the data center is no longer a given, and they are trying to predict what IT will want when the time comes.