I’ve said for months that Cisco needs to be a definitive cloud player and to do that, a software player. Cisco has now demonstrated it’s serious about being a cloud player with its acquisition of Cloupia, a fairly impressive player in the growing space of provisioning/DevOps, particularly for the cloud. I think this is a very early move for Cisco and so it’s a bit of a risk to read a lot into it, but let’s give it a go!
The form of the cloud everyone intuitively thinks about is little more than server consolidation in a hosted model. You take apps that ran on nuclear servers, you host them on something like EC2, and they run there without the cost of remote support and low utilization you’ve experienced in the past. These apps are a kind of “fire-and-forget” model of cloud deployment, because they were intended to run independently and persistently so they really present a minimal management burden. But they’re also the transitional infancy of the cloud, opportunity-wise. If you want to do REAL cloud, you have to think about deployment of apps that are highly integrated with each other, that have to expand and contract by having multiple instances, and that have to fail over between internal IT infrastructure and public cloud. All that stuff generates increased complexity in assigning resources and integrating components, so you need a DevOps-type of tool.
So Cloupia is in a good space, but Cisco hasn’t tried to build its own cloud stack, it’s announced its own OpenStack distro instead. Why not rely on the open-source DevOps stuff that’s emerging around OpenStack? Cisco has in fact contributed a project there (Donabe) and a link between Donabe and the OpenStack Quantum interface for network provisioning. Is jumping into the cloud DevOps space commercially a smart idea? Darn straight it is; it may in fact be a necessary condition for cloud success, and I don’t mean “success of the cloud”, I mean “Success of CISCO in the cloud.”
Cisco is a high-margin player, and that’s something Wall Street judges them on. If you’re looking for high margins you don’t find them in open-source software. Yes, cloud software could be a factor that could pull Cisco servers through, but the problem is that it’s the same stuff everyone else has. Furthermore, while it may sound heretical to say this, cloud software stacks are often no big deal. A traditional cloud is a virtualized data center front-ended by a management interface. Hardly something that’s going to drive a big differentiator into the game for Cisco. So they need something else.
If any significant cloud needs DevOps tools, then Cisco could be THE player for the “significant cloud” by having the best DevOps in the market. While I don’t think you could argue that Cloupia is the absolute best, Cisco certainly has the resources to make it so. A Cisco-specific Cloupia-based provisioning strategy could not only manage IT resources but network resources, creating a single framework for setting up cloud applications that could be used by enterprises and still scale to support cloud providers. Add this to Cisco’s OpenStack distro and you really have something!
Ah, but there could be more. Remember that a cloud stack is a resource collection (like virtualized servers) front-ended by a management interface. How far a stretch would it be to take Cloupia from the role of “Quantum plugin” to manage the network or “Nova plugin” to manage servers, to BEING THE CLOUD STACK? If Cisco were to simply expose the same APIs as OpenStack does, from Cloupia-based DevOps, what you would have would look exactly like a cloud stack but it would be Cisco’s alone, potentially a major differentiator in a market whose price reductions already cry “Commoditization!” And if Cisco integrated its workflow tools into the mix, it could have a complete “service cloud” for network operators and a complete cloud/PaaS framework on which enterprises and developers could build the commercial apps of the future.
I’ve been preaching DevOps and integration of service logic (workflow/orchestration) for a long time, and maybe I’m seeing the opportunity behind every bush at this point, but I don’t think so. We need a distributed model of IT to make the cloud whole, and we need both distributable provisioning and workflow/orchestration to get a distributed model of IT. Does Cisco have it? Yes they do, but in pieces. Will they integrate it? We’ll see.