Data centre revisited

Cisco Systems Corp. threw the industry a curve ball last month at its Networkers at Cisco Live conference.As the industry was looking to the San Jose, Calif.-based company to announce more elements to its unified communications strategy in response to Microsoft’s salvo into the market, instead Cisco told more than 10,000 technical implementers and channel partners at the event its vision for the data centre of the future.

Called Data Center 3.0, this new vision, to be delivered over the next 24 months, contains new products lead by the VFrame line of networking and storage infrastructures. VFrame offers policy-based engines for automating resource changes and a data centre Web services application programming interface. Another integral part of Data Center 3.0 is Wide Area Application Services or “Trusted” WAN optimization software.

Peter Castaldi, vice-president of Kovarus Technology Solutions Inc., a systems integrator and reseller specializing in enterprise storage and networking, said with this new technology and the move to virtual SANs in the marketplace there will be big demand for this WAAS service.

He added that solution providers such as Kovarus, which is a Cisco Premier Certified Partner, can make money in year one of Cisco’s new data centre vision and the margin potential can be between 15 and 20 per cent, depending on the customer situation.

“Cisco has really come to play in each area of virtual storage and virtualization and with its deal registration program we are already seeing (profits) and it is big enough of us,” Castaldi said.

Jayshree Ullal, senior vice-president of the switching and security technology group for Cisco, said her company’s journey into the data centre did not happen overnight. IT is transforming from a cost centre to a strategic asset in a highly virtualized infrastructure. Data Center 3.0 intends to bring real time orchestration of infrastructure services for customers comprising virtual servers, storage networking resources and collaboration application services, she said.

“Many times we think of virtualization as virtual machines, but mapping that is important,” said Ullal. “At the heart of this is a unified fabric that brings together the best of Ethernet, storage, fibre channel and infiniband.”

Cisco’s main challenges in the data centre space are business empowerment and operational limitations. Ullal said response times in the data centre need to be improved dramatically if customers want to reach productivity goals. Furthermore, IT operations are limited by power consumption.

Armin Heinlein, the head of IT competence center NORAM and vice-president of Panalpina of Morristown, N.J., was one Cisco customer who faced these two challenges. Panalpina has six major data centres one of which is situated in Toronto, and two other minor data centres. The company wanted to bring them all together to hopefully work faster.

Heinlein said that every time a new application was introduced to the company it meant a new server had to be installed and with that there needs to be a full back system. That in turn brought on more switching and routing equipment.

“We needed to do something to bring it together with server virtualization and reduce the cost. WAAS helped me do some cost reduction and improve service,” Heinlein said.

WAAS software enables IT teams to deploy WAN optimization across the environment, while preserving branch security. It also provides tight integration with NetQoS application monitoring products.

Panalpina saved approximately US$1 million, increased its bandwidth and moved out between 20 to 30 per cent of its physical servers, Heinlein said. Data Center 3.0 also includes Cisco application control engine (ACE) XML gateway software, MDS 18/4 multi-service module, and 9222i multi-service modular switch, 9134 multi-layer fabric switch, Data Mobility Manager, storage media encryption, N-port Virtualizer, Smart Call Home, a data centre assurance program and two channel partner specializations.

Cisco is trying to mobilize its channel to take advantage of the potential lucrative business opportunity in sees in the data centre by rolling out two certifications. As part of Cisco’s Data Center 3.0 initiative, the networking giant wants a small but highly focused segment of its channel network to adopt new specializations in three key areas: network infrastructure, storage networking and application networking.

John Growdon, director, data center solutions, worldwide channels for Cisco, said the two new specializations and another one that is still on the drawing board are a parallel strategy for building channel enablement with the new products such as VFrame and the MDS series, which were released to support the Data Center 3.0 plan.

“There will be a plethora of new products in the Data Center 3.0 strategy and one challenge the partners have is it is difficult to make investments in each product we are rolling out,” Growdon said. The two specializations that are available today are the Advanced Data Center Networking Infrastructure Specialization and the Advanced Data Center Storage Networking Specialization, which replaces the old Storage Networking Specialization.

The third specialization is still in its initial phase of development. Growdon said it would be called Data Center Application Networking Specialization and revolve around building partner competencies on Application Content Engine or ACE. He did not have a firm date as to when this third specialization would be available to the channel.

As for the two that are available now, the Advanced Data Center Networking Infrastructure Specialization teaches partners to design, sell, install and support Cisco Catalyst Ethernet switching and security in the data centre, while the Advanced Data Center Storage Networking Specialization focuses on training partners to better deploy and support intelligent SAN solutions.

Growdon stressed that these specializations focus on data centre and not advanced technologies such as unified communications and wireless.

“The data centre is a unique place in the network and inside a customer organization. A common question from the partner community is how they organize themselves to get after the opportunity, especially with the consolidation of branch office resources in server storage and e-mail,” he added.

According to a draft update of Cisco’s global market viewer, which is based on multiple inputs from industry analysts, the addressable data centre market in the U.S. and Canada is worth just under US$4 billion today and is expected to grow to more than US$5.5 billion by 2010.

Peter Alexander, vice-president of Cisco’s commercial business and channels, said he believes Data Center 3.0 can be a significant opportunity for channel partners that have hosted services.

“SMEs tend not to build their own data centres, but they do need hosted applications and storage and so the people selling to them with managed services can use this stuff to build massively scalable data centres and provide these services to thousands of SMBs at a time,” Alexander said.

Growdon anticipates that only 80 channel partners will initially adopt these specializations. He hopes it will grow to into the low hundreds.

“This is meant for a set of partners who have breath and interest in getting into this space. Almost every partner we have has something they sell into the data centre today, but the focus is on a set of partners who can execute with Cisco into the data centre,” he said.

Cisco also announced the Data Center Assurance Program, a solution level testing program for validated, channel -built networks and system architectures for LAN, SAN, business continuance, optical internetworking, application networking services, global load balancing, and Wide Area Application Services (WAAS).

“Testing architectures that show how you assemble complex data centre will be a benefit. (The channel) will have access to pre-tested designs,” Growdon said.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.
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