17,000 attended Cisco Live this year, up from 7,000 last year. The core messages from John Chambers were:
- A focus of excellence and execution within Cisco's core businesses, and offloading pieces that don't contribute;
- Listening intently to customers, understanding the IT industry transitions (about one every year), and innovating and differentiating to meet the opportunities presented. Chambers presented a slide of companies no longer in existence, because, he implied, they did not recognize transitions, innovate, and differentiate.
This year there is much more discussion about switches and routers supporting the cloud. The floor has a large number of VCE Vblocks with EMC storage, and NetApp Flexpods. This signals that Cisco is addressing the important converged infrastructure transition. This transition includes the transformation of computing driven by the virtualization of both servers and storage. The UCS backplane, which connects these pieces, adds significant services and convergence but not true network virtualization - a true decoupling of virtual networking services from the physical networking hardware is not part of UCS-based systems.
To cover networking virtualization, Cisco announced a "spin-in" in April 2012 with a $100 milllion investment in Insieme. The mandate is to explore software-defined networks.
One company that is focusing purely on network virtualization for large network companies is Nicira, just out of stealth. In the same way as server virtualization decouples and isolates virtual machines from the underlying server hardware, Nicira network virtualization decouples and isolates virtual networks from the underlying network hardware.
The physical network is an IP backplane used for packet forwarding. Virtual networks are then programmatically created and operate completely decoupled from the underlying hardware, offering all the features and guarantees of current physical networks. The subdivision to multiple logical networks allows tailored network services to be offered to clients, with the ability to deliver and monetize the bandwidth and latency available to meet the SLAs of specific sets of users and/or applications. The key benefits of virtual network machines are operational simplicity, network hardware independence, improved monitization of network assets, and the ability to add and change network services on a dime.
Nicira is of course not alone in addressing this market. VMware and others are also working to address this space. Sun emeritus John Gages's epithet "the network is the computer" could be rephrased as "the virtual network is the system".
Action Item: Wikibon believes that virtualized networks will be a very important trend, both for very large scale users, and later for enterprise data centers. CTOs and senior network practitioners (and Cisco) should assess whether network virtualization is a transitional or a transformational technology.