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Cisco Wants to Virtualize Your Datacenter

Without a doubt virtualization is a hot topic in IT, though often it's thought of just in the server consolidation context. Networking giant Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) is now expanding its virtualization efforts to encompass the entire datacenter environment with a trio of updated releases.

Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) software release 4.1, Cisco Application Control Engine (ACE) software release 3.1 and Cisco VFrame Datacenter software release 1.2 have all been updated to support a virtual end-to-end datacenter environment.

The end-to-end virtualization effort expands Cisco's existing network virtualization efforts to mesh with server consolidation efforts already under way in the datacenter with vendors such as VMware (NYSE: VMW).

"Many of the customers that we talk to are interested in understanding the impact of virtualization of their server environment to their overall datacenter," George Kurian, vice president and general manager, application delivery business unit at Cisco, told InternetNews.com. "Virtualization of your server environment needs to be coupled with virtualization of storage and network to capture the full benefits of flexible and efficient IT."

Cisco's datacenter virtualization moves come as part of an expansion of Cisco's Datacenter 3.0 effort which aims to consolidate and improve datacenter operations.

Overall, though, Cisco has a long history of working in the network virtualization space. Kurian noted that Cisco has been working on the virtual network space for years with such innovations as virtual LANs (VLAN) and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

"What we're doing now is bringing the benefits of virtualization from the network to the virtual machine environment itself in the server," Kurian said.

To that end, Cisco has updated its Application Control Engine (ACE) software to version 3.1, which adds support for virtualized VoIP and multimedia video streams.

Kurian noted that ACE 3.1 provides for an environment that lets uses scale video server farms without the need to buy huge amounts of new servers.

Cisco has also updated its Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) software to version 4.1 in support of the expanded virtualization offering. Kurian explained that what WAAS has historically done is provide acceleration of datacenter applications across the WAN so users can consolidate servers, storage and backup from the datacenter.

With WAAS 4.1, Cisco is adding support for virtual blades.

"Similar to physical blades, virtual technology in WAAS allows you to deploy virtual blades that augment the base capability of the system," Kurian said.

The application acceleration business itself is a hotly contested one especially in light of the recent partnership between heavyweights Citrix and Akamai earlier this year.

Kurian shrugged off the potential competitive threat noting that the WAAS platform is very flexible and that it can be integrated with solutions from Akamai, Citrix and others.

"We see the WAAS solution being an open service delivery platform," Kurian said.

Last up in terms of Cisco's virtualization announcements is Cisco VFrame Datacenter software release 1.2. VFrame is a provisioning tool that allows users to put together all of the virtual networking environment components that complement the virtual server environment in the datacenter.

Kurian comments that in VFrame 1.2 Cisco has added support for VMware's Virtual Center so users can now provision VMware ESX servers from within VFrame.

Kurian noted that for now Cisco has focused on supporting VMware as opposed to XenSource, though that may change in the future as the effort expands. He add that Cisco customers are currently primarily placing their virtualization priorities with VMware.

In terms of switching infrastructure support Kurian also admitted that VFrame is currently limited to supporting Cisco Catalyst switches. Though support for other switching equipment is currently in the works for future releases.

"What we're doing is moving virtualization from the network into the virtual machine itself," Kurian said. "So stay posted for range of technology announcements as well an expansion of people process and tools to enable our customers and partners to take advantage of this business opportunity."