Cisco's Cloud Play: Three Strong Examples

Cisco CEO John Chambers talks a lot about listening to customers, and this time it looks like the company really has.
Ask anyone for the top five or 10 cloud vendors, and it's likely that Cisco won't make the list. But as I watched presentations Tuesday at the Cisco Live event in San Diego, I was impressed with what Cisco is doing to turn cloud aspirations into something that enterprises can actually use.

As he always does, CEO John Chambers went on about listening to customers. And as he talked about the competitor carcasses Cisco has left in its wake, he reminded the audience that not many companies are good at spotting market shifts and changing to accommodate them. I've chided Chambers before about his listen-to-customers mantra, doubting they've ever asked for myriad proprietary standards. But in the cloud offerings that Cisco described, you do see the wants and needs of customers. Here are three examples.

-- Cisco's Integrated Services Router, the one that typically goes into remote offices and other small-need facilities such as retail outlets, is now getting a fully functional UCS card. UCS is Cisco's blade server platform, so with such a card, the ISR not only can run Cisco's services, but also your own. Data center professionals can start VM-encased apps in the data center and then use a technology like VMotion to move them to the remote office.

With the USC card, Cisco is giving customers the sort of private cloud capability that could be a deal changer. Local apps in remote locations can perform better, and they can show up just when they're needed. Since most of these offices will have no IT expertise, the ISR's proven track record in these environments is critical.

-- The second immensely practical technology Cisco introduced is its Cloud Services Router. The CSR is a virtual router that runs in a VM. It can be used on the cloud side of infrastructure-as-service/platform-as-a-service to create a VPN tunnel between the cloud instance and your data center. If you're using Cisco VPN products, then the CSR will help provide data-in-transit security that's otherwise hard to do in the cloud.

-- Third, there's Location ID Separation Protocol, or LISP. It's not new; in fact it's been around for a few years. But in 2011, Cisco started LISP-enabling more and more of its products. The intent for LISP is to allow a device to be assigned one IP number and then to use that IP number from wherever you are.

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As a practical example, you could start out watching a video on your iPad, delivered over your home wireless network, then walk outside, switch to 3G/4G, and then go to a Starbucks and use its wireless without interrupting the video. Cisco has put LISP into the public domain, and in order for it to be useful it'll have to be pervasive. But it's an important capability in a virtualized world. Even if it's not pervasive, it'll have applications--universities, for example, would love it.

Cisco has overhyped its share of technologies, but cloud hasn't been one of them. Instead, it keeps adding technologies that should be very useful to those looking to make great use of IaaS and PaaS. If the cloud is a gold rush, then Cisco intends to make money on it by providing the shovels and pick axes needed to do the mining. That approach is smart for Cisco--and helpful for the customers it's apparently listening to.

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