Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Disruptor in the Data Center

In the last few years,I have had opportunity to work with with Enterprise Architects in Infrastructure Management Teams during the deployment of new systems/applications. The key observation was that we spent lot of time discussing the application sizing requirements, security requirements and network requirements to arrive at a suitable Solution Architecture [infrastructure] that would evenutally solve the problem at hand.

The actual 'System Integration' between the hardware resources like servers, storage, network/firewall typically needed to be hand-crafted and hence took significant time and effort. The scenario would be much more complicated if we were talking about Internet facing applications or the complexity of the application was high.

Coming from the Application/System Architecture background, I am thinking - Wouldn't be possible to come out with several design/architectural patterns in Solution Architectures [Deployment/Infrastructure architecture] as well. For example, Internet transactional system can have a pre-integrated topology and intranet system can have its own pre-defined / prescriptive topology and based on a standard model and the additional discussions can be had according to the very specific project requirements.

Am yet to talk to my Infra Architect counterparts to understand the viability of such a thought process.

But, It looks like Cisco has observed this very practical problem prevailing in the data center and come out with an 'Architectural approach' to solve this issue. Cisco's new offering 'Unified Computing System' is not centered towards a specific solution architecture. It is positioned as a holistic data center platform where many such 'Solution Architectures' can be crafted and deployed seamlessly.

In this new offering, the Platform is a hardware + software combination that has the 'inherent' capability to orchestrate server, storage and virtualization with high-speed network equipments. Yes, I said 'Inherent' capability with no 'plumbing'.

For the first time, Cisco is entering into the data center market, not as a network gear provider but the 'Server provider'. And Cisco has taken this daring move disrupting its own long-term partners such as IBM and HP.

By providing a 'Pre-integrated/Architected System', Cisco aims to eliminate the manual system integration that typically is the case in data center operations. Am personally excited with the 'Architecture approach' as it attempts to think out-of-the-box. [hardware box :-) ]

Cisco CTO claims that today's data centers are fragmented and innovations like virtualization are not enough. Applying those innovations would only increase the operating expenses, She states. I couldn't agree more!.

To support Enterprise data center requirements, Cisco has roped in several partners such as EMC and VMWare to work in a unified Environment. The UCS System will have the capability to seamlessly orchestrate various data center resources from its partners, thus resulting in a plug-n-play environment. With this approach, Cisco's UCS emerges as the 'Brain' in the Enterprise Nervous system [Infrastructure layer].

When I read the offering in detail, I draw strong similarities between Cisco's Unified Computing System and the SOA principles. The UCS effectively implements the SOA principles to seamlessly orchestrate different heterogenous resources using industry standard protocols.

This is clearly a disruptor to the data center/infrastructure industry. And Cisco actually in the path of realizing Sun Microsystem's Visionary statement - 'Network is the Computer'.