Cisco Unified Computing System vs. VMware vSphere 4

As cloud computing swirls with innovations and performance benefits for businesses, Cisco Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. are jockeying to build private clouds for enterprise data centers.

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So which company is better positioned to help resellers and IT integrators roll out this virtualized computing power technology for end users? The best plan will likely include both companies and their complementary offerings, according to two industry analysts.

"I don't consider this an either/or issue between Cisco and VMware," said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif. "Bottom line: There's no such thing as a cloud without virtualization and an infrastructure [to virtualize]. VMware has the virtualization, and Cisco has the infrastructure."

In fact, Cisco and VMware are already partnering in the cloud marketplace, with Cisco offering its Nexus 1000V virtual switch for use with VMware's new vSphere 4.0 cloud operating system. The two companies have cross-marketing agreements in place, and Cisco has previously invested in VMware, which is owned by competitor EMC Corp.

Cisco's stake in the cloud is in its recently unveiled Unified Computing System (UCS), which the company said integrates networking, computing and virtualization technologies into one framework. The idea is to reduce the number of required switches, cables and components, while simplifying systems management, power needs and cooling. UCS is different from competing architectures because its systems management features are embedded into the components rather than just controlled through add-on software, Cisco said.

VMware's vSphere 4.0 is a virtualization platform that lets users build internal private clouds or external clouds as needed.

Interestingly, even as they are partnering with each other and other vendors, "Cisco and VMware are taking different approaches to the cloud that are competing and complementary in different ways," King said.

"VMware sees virtualization not as an ancillary technology that server and systems vendors can add," he said. "VMware is drawing a line in the sand and saying that virtualization is the critical technology underlying the cloud, that you can't have cloud computing without virtualization."

Cisco, on the other hand, is saying that the network is what ties together the server and storage elements, creating the cloud, King said.

"They're taking completely self-centric views," he said. "But it's one of those situations where you can't have one without the other."

What integrators and resellers have to do, King said, is take a close look to find the approach that's better for their customers.

"It puts traditional partners and integrators in a pickle, because they have to walk a fine line between providing traditional services and figuring out how these cloud-centric views are viewed by customers," he added.

Other major vendors are involved in similar partnerships with VMware and Cisco. They have also tried similar ideas in the past decade with varying levels of success, said Russ Fellows, an analyst with Evaluator Group Inc. in Greenwood Village, Colo.

"The latest wave of virtualization went crazy, and VMware has been at the root of that with the right product at the right time," Fellows said. "They were able to rapidly add in the needed management features, and that's where VMware is really ahead of everybody. VMware is ahead of the curve in terms of marrying virtualization technology with systems management."

Ultimately, neither Cisco nor VMware can do it all for resellers or end users.

"No one company or set of technologies is enough in itself," Fellows said. "VMware has a lot of the pieces that you need, but that isn't enough. Cisco has some of the pieces that you need as well. You need combinations of these two companies and others to bring private clouds into data centers."

About the author
Todd R. Weiss is a longtime technology journalist and freelance writer. He worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. Weiss was also a daily newspaper reporter at
The Lancaster New Era and The Times Herald in Norristown, eastern Pennsylvania.

This was first published in June 2009

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