Cisco to boost virtualisation and systems management

Cisco Systems executives last week gave a broad outline of new technologies that the networking equipment maker will pursue in...

Cisco Systems executives last week gave a broad outline of new technologies that the networking equipment maker will pursue in coming years, including datacentre virtualisation products and management software.


John Chambers, Cisco's president and Chief executive, has been hounded by analysts in recent months about the products Cisco plans to add to its line of "advanced technologies," which includes offerings for IP telephony, wireless applications, storage, security and optical and home networking. 


In an interview and during his keynote speech at Cisco's Worldwide Analyst Conference in California, Chambers declined to provide full details about the company's plans, and said he does not want to tip off rival suppliers. But he said datacentre virtualisation is one technology Cisco will support, following its announcement late last year of upgraded MDS 9000 storage switches that let virtual storage-area networks share disk arrays and tape libraries. 


Charles Giancarlo, Cisco's chief technology officer, said the company would apply virtualisation in the datacentre to storage devices as well as servers and applications. He said Cisco's datacentre technology architecture will rely on what he called "intelligent processor switching," which would bring together blade, web and database servers. 


One technology that will develop out of the datacentre virtualisation concept is "application-aware networking" or layer 4-7 switching, which Chambers described as "huge" in potential. 


Cisco routing technology general manager Mike Volpi demonstrated a new hardware product, which seems to fall into what Chambers described as layer 4-7 switching. The appliance, called a service control engine, will be used primarily by service providers, Volpi said, but could also be sold to enterprises. Based on technology from Cisco's acquisition of P-Cube earlier this year, it allows a carrier to help customers customise voice over IP (VoIP) services, such as adding a new VoIP phone line or setting parental controls on internet browsing. 


Similarly, a corporation could use it to restrict a department from certain uses and or as a means of chargeback, to monitor network usage by a branch or division. 


Another potential technology expansion from Cisco could be a range of new systems management products, similar to software being offered by Hewlett-Packard, Computer Associates and IBM Tivoli, said Dennis Drogseth, an analyst for Enterprise Management Associates. 


Mario Mazzola, chief development officer for Cisco, said Cisco will partner with other framework management suppliers to provide such products, but gave few specifics. "We are going to rely on partnerships to bring a level of system management," Mazzola told analysts, promising details in the next few months. 


Drogseth said Cisco's move toward management is "encouraging" but will play out over many years. Cisco has long sold management software for its own switches and routers, but has not provided more general management software covering an entire system's health, including servers and applications. 


He noted that Cisco's concept of datacentre virtualisation will require more sophisticated management software. "That is a cultural lesson Cisco has to learn pervasively across the company. Without management, virtualisation is merely a nice hat trick." 


He said he met with Cisco management software architects this week and was assured they understand how Cisco software can work with software from other suppliers.


Matt Hamblen writes for Computerworld

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills