Cisco Systems is making a big play in the cloud -- or rather for the cloud -- with CloudVerse, an architecture that in some ways has the same goals as the product that Alcatel-Lucent announced last month, CloudBand. Every vendor is trying to get a place in the cloud, hoping in part no doubt that the inherent fuzziness of the cloud will admit them. Cisco, though, has more cloud vendor credentials in the space than most, so its approach should be taken seriously.
In terms of functionality, all cloud vendors have to build the same thing. Clouds are systems for creating a sharable-- multi-tenant, in public cloud instances --pool of resources, assigning those resources to applications and users, and managing the process to ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness. In practical terms, what makes each cloud player stand out is partly its ability to offer something that's special within this mix of requirements, giving them differentiation and a target market. Cloud vendors are also defined by how broadly they can cover the various requirements, which gives comfort to buyers who doubt their own skills -- and these days, that includes pretty much everyone.
Cisco's ingredient for success in the cloud is the completeness of its solution.
Cisco's ingredient for success in the cloud is the completeness of its solution, in my view. Cisco has every piece of technology you need for cloud building, including the servers with its Unified Computing System (UCS) products. Whereas Alcatel-Lucent focuses on data center interconnect because its products can't populate a data center, Cisco can articulate a simple story as a cloud vendor: Clouds start with big resource pools that we can build and grow out through big networks that we can also build.
Yes, Cisco needs to better articulate how its technical capabilities align with real business trends, but it has an easy cloud vendor story to create and sell. If Cisco gets good at telling it, that will put a lot more pressure on competitors to do something smart on their own -- and precious few networking vendors can realistically match Cisco's scope. With HP in management ruins and IBM out of networking (at least in terms of its own products), Cisco may be the only one-stop shop in the cloud mall.
Arch-rival Juniper Networks is taking another approach with its new drive to promote data center fabrics as the logical heart of the cloud, namely its QFabric architecture. This story also has inherent strength because clearly a cloud must start with a resource pool. But like Alcatel-Lucent’s CloudBand, the Juniper tale needs more collateral to be as effective as a potential Cisco story. The challenge for Juniper is articulating a cloud position that its fabric can be the centerpiece for; Alcatel-Lucent's challenge is to articulate the overall scheme of cloud services that justifies and empowers its interconnect vision.
What all of this says is that cloud vendor positioning must be holistic; if vendors aren't naturally complete, in terms of products, then they have to be complete in vision. That fits with the fact that their prospective customers -- particularly network operators or other public cloud providers -- want cloud vendors to deliver a strategy that minimizes the efforts and delays caused by integration.
Cloud vendors must address role of mobility
Despite all of this activity, I think cloud vendors are minimizing the most important truth about the cloud, and that's the fact that the cloud isn't about an alternative to enterprise data centers -- at all. The real value of the cloud has been obscured by usage and expectations, transformed into a vision of a new flexible, elastic and universally available pool of knowledge and compute power. Yes, in theory, that new pool could be used to implement the same old stuff, but more importantly, it could transform how we use computing and information -- coupling the cloud more tightly to behavior and mobility.
When offices and workers are concentrated into buildings, the notion of ubiquitous availability of IT resources becomes rather lame; they are already always available by virtue of having limited the scope of their use to specific buildings. What makes the cloud different is that it doesn't require massing up humans to use it; instead, it presumes users are distributed, and that's clearly the case.
The jury is still out on just what device or distribution vehicle will drive all of this, or whether a single driver is even necessary. You can say cloud adoption will be driven by smartphones, tablets, game consoles or anything else, and I think you'd be wrong. This trend is really about the notion of a general set of data-consuming devices that become more integrated with our lives and work, and they are agents for a new model of information empowerment. This shift will generate a lot of winners and losers. Which camp will you be in, dear cloud vendors?
About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecommunications strategy issues. Check out his blog, Uncommon Wisdom, for the latest in communications business and technology development.