Cisco Touts Its Cloudy Open Future – Will VMware Do The Same?

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Lew Tucker is the distinguished Cloud CTO for Cisco Systems. He’s a revered character in the “clouderati,” community for his clear views and his support for OpenStack, the open cloud effort that is getting a lot of attention these past few weeks.

He’s also a proponent of open source. In this video posted July 23, he says open source is an increasing part of Cisco’s future. It’s a way to give back to the community and make the world a better place. He describes how Cisco is responding to the market need for an alternative to Amazon Web Services. He says Cisco sees that as an opportunity to develop a network based service that is an integral part of OpenStack.

It’s a timely video. Cisco has been an active contributor to OpenStack, especially with its involvement in the Quantum Project, an effort to build next generation virtual networks more suited to the cloud than traditional physical networks.

It’s even more timely considering we now have VMware entering the OpenStack community through its acquisition of Nicira this week for $1.26 billion. Nicira is a software defined networking (SDN) technology company that is also active in OpenStack. Now that it is owned by VMware, its role in OpenStack is uncertain. Further, it raises questions about Cisco’s relationship with VMware. The two have been long time partners. The proof of how that relationship unfolds may very well come down to how VMware participates in the open cloud movement.

Nicira and other companies in the SDN space have helped usher in a change in the way we view networking technology. It’s now the network that is virtualized. The network can exist anywhere. Everything becomes a node. That changes everything. Now a network can be programmed on the fly. It completes the cloud triangle. Compute is virtualized. Storage is getting there. Networking is next.

But will VMware embrace OpenStack and tout an open, cloudy future? It already has Cloud Foundry, its open source platform as a service (PaaS). But in the great scope of things, Cloud Foundry plays a small role in VMware’s business. The company’s real muscle is in its virtualization technology where it owns the market. Will the company open it to OpenStack?

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with Joshua McKenty of Piston Cloud who helped me connect the dots about VMware and what it may ultimately do. McKenty is one of the original founders of OpenStack.

Paul Maritz’ departure from VMware earlier this month signaled what was to come. Stories circulated that Cloud Foundry was spinning out and Maritz was being considered for the job. For now, he has landed at EMC as the company’s chief strategist, reporting to CEO Joe Tucci. But it doesn’t make sense for him just to lead Cloud Foundry. It’s a tiny group. Important, but tiny. The real connection comes when you consider that EMC, VMware’s parent company, is considering integrating Cloud Foundry with Greenplum, its big data analytics group. Then there is DynamicOps, the company VMware acquired earlier this month. Its technology is designed to orchestrate IT infrastructure. Nicira would complete the play, giving VMware the network virtualization backbone that until now it has not had.

Would Maritz lead this group? That would make sense. He’d be leading EMC’s most important initiative. An effort that would be nothing less than turning the company’s virtualization empire into one that is about delivering services on a cloud stack.

But there’s a catch. Cisco and Nicira had been collaborating through OpenStack on the Quantum Project. VMware is entering a den where it may not be accepted. Especially if VCE falls apart. That’s the company EMC, VMware and Cisco started to market big box, converged systems. In other words, new age mainframes.

But until the Nicira acquisition came into play, VMware’s cloud strategy was not entirely clear. And that brings us back to the question about VMware’s openness.

VMware seems to be admitting that the underlying infrastructure will be “federated,” as my friend and analyst Krishnan Subramanian argues. It’s hard to see it any other way. Infrastructures are fractured. Portability is pretty much nonexistent. Federating infrastructures would give VMware a way to build a network services environment with Nicira. Cloud Foundry would serve as the universal PaaS and Greenplum acting as an analytics engine. DynamicOps would serve as the orchestration layer.

In order for this scenario to play out, VMware would have to take a position that would be extreme by its standards. It would mean VMware making it easy to move its proprietary virtualization technology to OpenStack.

Cisco has made the move to OpenStack and through that has shown a commitment to open source efforts. It is working with other networking companies to develop a software defined network where the network goes to the application in an open environment.

Will VMware make its own jump into OpenStack? if it did then it would be a noteworthy shift for VMware and show a significant commitment to the open cloud. It would well suit OpenStack. It would mean that we see a new generation of clouds that are open yet suited to the needs of any individual organization. And it may determine what kind of relationship it has with Cisco.