Cisco, Virtualization, and the Inevitable Hardware Upgrades of 2007

Cisco CEO says virtualization "inevitable."

Cisco CEO John Chambers was at the Gartner IT Symposium this week to give a variation of his “Happy to be a plumber” speech. Chambers dusts this gem off whenever he wants to illustrate how important Cisco is to the infrastructure of so many large enterprises.

In this case, Chambers was wading into the virtualization fray. And if Chambers is talking about virtualization, you can bet that a large amount of hardware is about to be purchased. And indeed, virtualization is just such an area.

Chambers believes that the migration to virtual environments is inevitable, but says that adoption has only just begun. Moreover, Chambers thinks that virtualization has more potential than just consolidating hardware. Cisco wants to push virtualization into the network itself, so that any user can access any application from any place. To make this happen, Cisco is pushing their AON middleware platform as the glue that can handle the complex routing and delivery of applications like videoconferencing and telepresence.

However, that’s not to say that physical server virtualization isn’t also a part of the Cisco plan. While the company announced a partnership with VMware a year ago, they appear to be focused on their in-house solution, VFrame Server Fabric Virtualization Software, built on the technology Cisco acquired with its 2005 purchase of Topspin.

But whether you’re looking at VFrame, VMware, or the open source Xen, the large-scale or distributed virtualization that Chambers envisions is going to require horsepower, probably in the form of quad-core processors optimized to handle virtual environments.

So, if you’re looking to run serious loads on a virtualized server, expect to upgrade your hardware. And you may need to expect a wait. Intel plans general availability for their quad-core Clovertown processors in early 2007. AMD’s quad-core offering is slated for mid-2007.

Many vendors predict that virtualization could spur the next wave of Linux adoption in the datacenter. Virtualization allows enterprises to run multiple operating systems on a single machine, allowing for a migration plan that doesn’t require duplicate physical server environments. Dropping Linux onto a virtual partition is a great way to try the operating system if you’re proximately a Windows shop. That is, if the hardware can handle it.

Virtualization is definitely here but I tend to agree with what Chambers noted in his keynote address, “We’re in the first inning of a nine inning ball game.” We may not know what virtualization is truly capable of for some time.

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