Servers and Switches and VMM’s, Oh My! Cisco’s California “Server Switch”
I can't help but smile at the announcement that Cisco is bringing to market a blade-based chassis which bundles together Intel's Nehalem-based server processors, the Nexus 5000 switch, and VMware's virtualization and management platform. From InformationWeek:
Cisco's system, code-named California, likely will be introduced in the
spring, according to the sources. It will meld Cisco's Nexus 5000 switch that converges storage
and data network traffic, blade servers that employ Intel Nehalem
processors, and virtualization management with help from VMware.
This news was actually broken back in the beginning of December by virtualization.info but I shamefully missed it. It looked like a bunch of others did, too.
This totally makes sense as virtualization has driven convergence across the compute, network and storage realms and has highlighted the fact that the provisioning, automation, and governance — up and down the stack — demands a unified approach for management and support.
For me, this is the natural come-about of what I wrote about in July of 2007 in a blog post titled "Cisco & VMware – The Revolution Will Be…Virtualized?":
This [convergence of network, compute and virtualization, Ed.] is interesting for sure and if you look at the way in which the
demand for flexibility of software combined with generally-available
COTS compute stacks and specific network processing where required, the
notion that Cisco might partner with VMWare or a similar vendor such as
SWSoft looks compelling. Of course with functionality like KVM in the Linux kernel, there's no reason they have to buy or ally…
Certainly there are already elements of virtualization within
Cisco's routing, switching and security infrastructure, but many might
argue that it requires a refresh in order to meet the requirements of
their customers. It seems that their CEO does.
When I last blogged about Cisco's partnership with VMware and (what is now called) the Nexus 1000v/VN-Link, I made reference to the fact that I foresaw the extraction of the VM's from the servers and suggested that we would see VM's running in the Nexus switches themselves. Cisco representatives ultimately put a stake in the sand and said this would never happen in the comments of that blog post.
Now we know what they meant and it makes even more sense.
So the bundling of the Nexus 5000* (with the initiator,) the upcoming protocol for VM-Flow affinity tagging, the integrated/converged compute and storage capabilities, and Intel's SR-IOV/MR-IOV/IOMMU technologies in the Nehalem, all supported by the advances with vNetworking/VN-Link makes this solution a force to be reckoned with.
Other vendors, especially those rooted in servers and networking such as HP and IBM, are likely to introduce their own solutions, but given the tight coupling of the partnership, investment and technology development between Intel, VMware and Cisco, this combo will be hard to beat.
Folks will likely suggest that Cisco has no core competency in building, selling or supporting "servers," but given the channel and partnership with VMware — with virtualization abstracting that hardware-centric view in the first place — I'm not sure this really matters. We'll have to see how accurate I am on this call.
Regardeless of the semantic differences of where the CPU execution lives (based on my initial prediction,) all the things I've been talking about that seemed tangentially-related but destined to come together seem to have. Further, here we see the resurgence (or at least redefinition of Big Iron, all over again…)
Remember the Four Horsemen slides and the blog post (the network is the computer, is the network, is the…) where I dared you to figure out where "the network" wasn't in the stack? This is an even more relevant question today.
It's going to be a very interesting operational and organizational challenge from a security perspective when your server, storage, networking and virtualization platform all come from a single source.
* Not that the 1000v ain't cool, but that little slide that only appeared once at VMworld about the 5000v and the initiator was just too subtely delicious not to be the real juice in the squeeze. The 1000v obviously has its place and will be a fantastic solution, but for folks who are looking for a one-stop shop for their datacenter blueprint designs heavily leveraging virtualization, this makes nothing but sense.