Cisco's Data Center Vision

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John Growdon, director of routing and switching for worldwide channels at Cisco, joined Ziff Davis Enterprise Editorial Director Mike Vizard for a recent Changing Channels podcast to talk about news from the Cisco Networkers event in Anaheim, Calif. A tra

Mike Vizard:From a channel prospective, you guys are talking about this brave new world of data center convergence, storage, servers and networking. And that all sounds fine. But what are you guys doing internally from a Cisco perspective to make it easier for the channel partners to go to market that way as a set of solutions? Because right now, you know, it still feels like there's a lot of parts to Cisco that I've got to kind of round up to make that solution come together.

John Growdon: If you look at what we're announcing and what we're talking about today, it actually answers the question you just asked, which is, from a channel's prospective, how are we approaching, or what is our strategy to go out and enable our channel partners to go out and take advantage of the data center opportunity. And if you look at Cisco today, we've got a breadth of technologies, obviously, that fit into the data center. For a partner to go and set up a practice around all these different technologies, it is a very costly proposition and very difficult for any partner. So the first step in the whole process of making it easier and better for the channel partner is to really say where do we have enough market or enough critical mass for a channel partner to establish a practice around a technology. That's the first step. If you look at this problem from that point, what you'll rapidly do, then, is say that there are a set of technologies that every channel partner or channel partners have to know to play inside of the data center. And the three technology groups — we put them into three buckets; one we're calling network infrastructure, one we're calling storage networking and one is application networking. In the network infrastructure bucket, we put in primarily Ethernet switching, so products like the Catalyst 6K along with the associated modules or the services modules for security, firewall, IDS, intrusion detection, network analysis module, gig modules, 10-gig modules, all those types of things, 4948s, which are top rack servers as well as blade switches. So the network infrastructure is really a set of products that many of our partners are already used to deploying in the data center environments. They already have some proficiency in this. However, there're many more things they need to know to really go after the opportunity. The second bucket is storage networking. So these are all of our MDS products, and inclusive of the fabric and the director-class type products, and finally the application networking. At Cisco, we have various products or many products that we actually put into application networking. The key ones that we're focused on in the data center are really the ACE products, so the low balancers, content engines are the ones that we're primarily focused on for the data center. The WAAS products I can talk about in a minute if you want to get into how those fit into the overall picture here. So from a specialization standpoint, what we're doing for our channel partners is we've created a series of specializations, three specializations that are meant to make them technically proficient and sales proficient on those three buckets of products. For network infrastructure, we just launched a brand new specialization that's called the Advanced Data Center Networking Infrastructure specialization. A very long name, but this is the specialization that deals with Ethernet switching and security-related products in the data center. The second specialization is called the Advanced Data Center Storage Networking specialization. And this is actually a vision or an evolution of our old storage network specialization. What we did is we added new content for the new SAN OS 3.0 and we included products like the 9124 Fabric Switch. So this is just an evolution of an existing … the data center network infrastructure is a new one. In the future we will come out with, or we are in the development phase I should say, of an application networking specialization that would cover the ACE type products.

Vizard: And the ACE type products are what exactly?

Growdon: So you've got the ACE blade that goes into the … are you familiar with the CSS and CSM? CSS, they're content switching modules and appliances. The ACE is just the, it's a new blade or a blade that goes into the Catalyst 6K. So this is load-balancing, content-switching type products.

Vizard: So there are still pieces missing if I needed to create a data center specialization as a solution provider. I still need to get some storage expertise on the hardware. I need to get some server expertise. How does that come together in a channel through Cisco? I mean, you know, every vendor has what I like to call Barney agreements — you know, I love you, you love me — but how does that work out on a channel play where, say you have partnerships with EMC, where does that meet in the channel? Where does a partnership with Cisco and a server vendor meet in the channel to help build this data center specialization capability out?

Growdon: Effectively, what you're asking is, what is the union between our partner community essentially and some of the storage and server partner community? What you will find is that the partners that are able to — there's something Darwinian about this, but the partners that are able to really excel in these three buckets — you need to excel in the three buckets to really take advantage of this. But the ones that are able to do this are also the ones that have a practice already in servers or in storage or a very strong one in networking. So this is not a specialization necessarily for every single partner out there. This track was never intended to be that. We're looking for partners that can specialize across the technologies, not just in one of them.

Vizard: It's nice from a technical level that Cisco and EMC have some kind of relationship. But from a business perspective, the weight of making the Cisco/EMC joint solution a reality for a customer, the weight of that is going to be on the partner.

Growdon: Yes, the partner becomes an integration point to bring it all together.

Management Paradigms.

Vizard: Where do you see Cisco's ambitions being in the systems and network management space? Because today, you know, it kind of sounded like Cisco was setting out to create the one ring that was going to rule all systems and network and storage management capabilities. Or is it more going to be about the interfaces between a Cisco standard management tool and an EMC-centered storage management tool and a Dell-centered management tool. I mean, are we going to get to this one-management paradigm, or is it going to be more about the elegance of the handoff between different management paradigms?

Growdon: For a product evolution standpoint, I think it's probably better that Doug Gourlay can answer that question. If you look at what was stated in the press briefing, he did talk about, or we did talk about the concept of consolidation, virtualization, automation. So there's kind of a logical progression that's occurring right now. And what we're going to do from a channel standpoint, though, is that we are going to identify the key technologies just like we've done here that, again, are large enough that we can establish specializations or business practices for a partner community. And however that plays out in the marketplace, we are going to match that over the next 24 months here with a channel program to enable our partners.

Vizard: I ask the question because, as you move to that technology paradigm as it were, especially around virtualization, the capability or the requirement to deliver managed services goes up dramatically. And so the question that kind of goes to the heart of it is, you know, am I going to use Cisco at the heart of my managed service delivery platform? Or is it going to be Cisco in combination with stuff from EMC, stuff from IBM or Dell or whoever? You know, what are we kind of setting the expectation for in terms of what the partner needs to invest in, in order to successfully deliver on the paradigm?

Growdon: Well, ultimately, the market decides what that architecture will look like, right? What we're going to do from a channel standpoint is we will keep pace with however it plays out in the marketplace. So we will modify, alter, change the track specializations and what we have to meet whatever the demand is of the customer community.

Vizard: And now these specializations. Do you perceive them to be Global 2000 company-level specifications, or are they more MSB-level specifications or some combination thereof? You know, is there a particular size solution provider that's going to lean a little bit more into these data center specializations than others?

Growdon: Yes. Realistically, these specializations are built for customers, obviously, that have enough of a data center that you can do something with. Typically, you will find that when you get companies, 400 people, 500 people and above, all the way up into the enterprise, you start getting enough of the critical mass where these become relevant. If you go to low in the stack, they are not as relevant just because, typically, the size of that data center you're dealing with is going to be very small. So, they're targeted for mid-size commercial customers up into the enterprise is what we try to design around the inside of these. And from a solutions provider standpoint, this will appeal to ones that are typically certified with us already today. Not to say that we won't have other ones that will come into the fold with us over time, but they may start out with a strong proficiency in switching already. So they may start here and leverage this way. Or they may start strong in some of our MDS products and leverage it the other ways.

Vizard: So, what is the benefit to the solution provider to get the specialization? Because, you know, in theory I don't need a certificate that says I am a data center specialist. I can just prove that by experience. If I'm a solution provider, why do I want to go to the trouble of being certified around this new specification? And what's the value back to me?

Growdon: There are a couple of things, and let me use an example, just a standard sales example to try to illustrate the advantage. When you go to do a sale today, one of the common problems that we're seeing in the end-customer community is that they want to do consolidation of resource from a branch office into the central office. Some of the folks we had on the panel today actually discussed that. They said, "Why are you consolidating your storage at the edge into the core?" And it was due to cost reasons. So there are many cost benefits that end-customers have by consolidation of resource. Oftentimes, this will start out as a storage consolidation, an exchange server consolidation, for example. To do that consolidation, it requires a very good routed wide-area link. The only way you can do that consolidation today effectively is to the WAAS-type product, or the WAAS technology to get you in a bandwidth or get you in a bandwidth to allow you to consolidate. So you start out with a sale from storage networking, and all of the sudden to do this, you have to do this. You've got to be able to do the WAAS aspect. Once you've consolidated it, then what have you done? You've pushed the traffic inside of your data center and a lot of it's going to flow over what? An Ethernet network. And this is a real common example. In this case, you need to have the proficiency across all three to do the sale. If the partner's not investing, and if they don't understand the interplay between storage, application networking and the network infrastructure, they're not going to be able to effectively do that sale. They might be good at doing storage networking, and maybe they'll get part of the tier, but unless they go in and actually make the investment across these, they're not going to be able to effectively do the whole sale.

Vizard: But do I need an actual certificate from Cisco …

Growdon: No, you don't.

Awareness in the Marketplace.

Vizard: Is Cisco going to do anything to the end-user community in terms of that branding or badging to make it valuable? Because, you know, people have been complaining about certifications for years now. I put all my time and energy into getting these things and yet, when I go out into the marketplace, there's no awareness that they have value. And there're, you know, a lot of costs back to me.

Growdon: I think you can look at it at a couple of different levels. One of them is at the end-customer level where there is knowledge of it, I would say. The second level is even internal to Cisco, where we have account managers working on opportunities, and we need to be able to work with our account managers to link them with a channel partner to actually put the whole opportunity together, just like you're referring to EMC and servers and all that. So there is a value to the branding internal to Cisco that's known to our own sales community, our own SEs and account managers. So, you only commented on the end-customer portion. I think it's as valuable internal to Cisco so that our account managers know it will work also.

Vizard: You all have different partners with different levels of competency around storage, networking and maybe virtualization and servers. Are you doing anything to help them partner with each other rather than just making it, you know, you've got to be a master of all three of these things? Because on certain accounts, you could definitely collaborate with different people of different specialties, and that may be a route that some people want to go.

Growdon: And in situations where partners don't have the full breadth across there, we definitely encourage them to do exactly that. Because if they do have a relationship with another partner that's able to do an aspect that they can't, clearly, an ecosystem play is perfect, and they should do it if they can collaborate effectively. So we'd encourage that. What we are ultimately driving toward, though, is we want to drive toward a partner that we can approach, as well as our customers can approach, that can just take soup-to-nuts and be proficient across all of these.

Vizard: Do any of the partners get any kind of additional discounts if they have a certification as it relates to the products? Do they get any kind of competitive advantage in the market place?

Growdon: We do not have any special discounts that are in parallel with the specializations that we're talking about here. However, I would say that we have in place today the OIP programs. So we have the core opportunity incentive program and a T-OIP program. And if you look at these technologies, the network infrastructure for switching is that they can use Coral IP actually to get access to that to get protection. WAAS and ACE are both, they're both advanced technologies so they can use the AT-OIP. Security is considered an AT so they can use it also. So instead of layering on just a whole brand new incentive structure on top of this, in parallel with this we're just saying we are encouraging our channel partners to go after data center opportunities and use the current programs that we have in place because they do provide protection and they do have discounts associated with them. And most of the partners that are going to go down this track, as I said, are already certified to a certain level inside of Cisco.

Vizard: And how do you see that coming together as a package kind of deal? Because on the one hand, I can look at data centers and I can say, yeah, we've consolidated the servers and that put too much pressure on the network and so the applications are slowing down. I have two approaches to that problem. I can go after an application acceleration model around WAAS or something like it, or I can just throw more bandwidth at the problem and try to sell a network upgrade. Is it really an either/or equation or is there some combination of things that people do that's the right answer to these kinds of problems?

Growdon: You've got to go out and understand the nature of the traffic. If you're trying to do a branch office consolidation, you need to understand the nature of that traffic and what the customer is trying to do. If you try to throw bandwidth at it … let's just deal with that one. If you're just going to throw extra T1s at, you know, arguably $700 per T1, it becomes a very, very expensive proposition very quickly and the economics of it play out so that it's better simply to implement WAAS as opposed to throwing more T1s at it. OK. So, the equation when we're doing things over a wide area that are outside of a metropolitan area where you might have fiber or something like that, when you get a true wide-area consolidation discussion here, the economics play out so it's better to use WAAS as opposed to just trying to throw more bandwidth at it.

Vizard: So there's a tendency, given the fact that everybody as a solution provider is, you know, I've got to hammer in there for everything's a nail. So they may be trying to push a bandwidth forklift upgrade to solve problems when the customer needs something that requires a little more nuance, and that requires the solution providers, therefore, to have a little more skill about application acceleration, storage performance over the network … and how things kind of, it's a delicate balance in the data center between the servers, and the storage and the networks and that's what is requiring them to invest in the certifications because it's not something you just come by …

Growdon: Exactly. You cannot just figure it out. And you just explained exactly why, by taking these type of things, a partner differentiates themselves because they can go in, if you have one entity pushing to throw more bandwidth at it, and you've got another one that's intelligently saying, let's understand what your problem is and figure out how to resolve that issue and how to do consolidations, cost reductions and all that. A partner that understands the suite can do that. If you're only dealing with this, or if you're only selling bandwidth, you cannot, you're going to be at a strategic disadvantage because someone can come in and win the business with the customer.

Network Acceleration.

Vizard: Now this whole application acceleration business has become something of a small cottage industry and there's a number of solution providers out there that are, you know, they're selling Cisco core, and then they're selling, you know, whether it's F5 or, you know, half a dozen other companies' acceleration services tools around Cisco as a part of their solution set, why should they come to a total Cisco play versus continuing on the path where they've got Cisco plus something else?

Growdon: I would say a couple of reasons. One, and this morning we had some of the folks on the panel talk about this, you can take your question and extend it to multiple technologies, not just the WAAS, right? You could extend it all over the place, and what many of these IT departments are finding is, I don't need an incremental plus-one vendor floating around inside of my network and trying to figure out how to support it when there are problems with it and issues with it. So part of it is just the single vendor approach that says this is my wide area, this is the approach that I want to take with a single vendor to deliver that and Cisco has the leading technology in this space, especially with WAAS, so why not go with a leader.

Vizard: So the issue they're trying to balance out in their heads, I surmise, is that on the one hand, they're like, well, if I add another product from another vendor here I may be differentiating myself from, you know, the 15 other guys selling Cisco. But at the other end of the equation is balancing that out against what is the cost of supporting the additional vendor and what does that do to their profitability.

Growdon: Yes. Absolutely.

Vizard: All right. So how does that equation usually work out from your prospective? I think I know where this answer may go, but I'm asking the question anyway.

Growdon: Ultimately, if the approach that we are taking, and I'll discuss WAAS here to hopefully answer your question. WAAS we view as a very critical technology that's applicable to a wide-area connection obviously, right? And what we did with our go-to market on this and our strategy is that we modified one of our other specializations, it's called the Advanced Route/Switch specialization. Every Gold Partner that Cisco has has to pass the Advanced Route/Switch specialization to be a Gold Partner. What we did recently is that we pulled content out of the advanced route/switch that had to do with switching and we put it in the data center network infrastructure specialization. So if it's data center–related, we put it over here. That opened up a hole in the advanced route/switch specialization. What we plugged in there was the WAAS content. So now any partner that ups their certification or goes to re-up their certification has to take WAAS. If you connect the dots, it says in the next year to two years, we will have hundreds of partners that we have trained in Cisco WAAS technology. We've been rapidly developing this technology so we are in a market leader position with it. And we will have a very large partner community that will now, instead of having to go to five other vendors to get training on whatever their product is, they're just going to plug it in as a standard portion of their routed environments. So it's going to be a single-vendor approach. I don't know if single vendor is the right word for it, but it's …

Vizard: So no matter what I do, one way or another I'm going to consume this knowledge, and it's kind of like, you know, I'm eating my spinach whether I want to or not because it's good for me.

Growdon: Well, I don't look at it as force-feeding. I mean, it's a necessary part of the network. We view it as a differentiator in the network and we believe that it is as critical that our partner community be proficient in WAAS as they are with our routers and our switches. It is just another aspect of it. Just like we added security to our SI routers, we didn't force-feed it. We always have options, and Cisco partners can or cannot use it. We find that many partners like using it. WAAS, we're building it into obviously our ISRs also with modules and we have it as an appliance, too.


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