As netizens and consumers of the World we are all daily users of the Internet and of shared computing resources. Equal access and general availability of the Internet is emerging as a human right, with a raging global debate about net neutrality. However, no similar debate has yet emerged on the equal access to standardized, application-centric cloud computing resources — in part because we do not yet recognize these cloud computing resources to be a global resource. Cloud service providers have strong national affiliations, despite their global user base, and they still retain significant proprietary elements of code and protocols that complicate global delivery.
A leading vendor in the Internet space now wants to challenge this state of affairs. At its recent annual partner conference, Cisco unveiled its Global Intercloud initiative, a two-year, billion-dollar investment aimed at extending its VCE vBlock stake in the Internet of Everything — well, at least ‘everything business’. The press release states:
“The Cisco global Intercloud is being architected for the Internet of Everything, with a distributed network and security architecture designed for high-value application workloads, real-time analytics, “near infinite” scalability and full compliance with local data sovereignty laws. The first-of-its-kind open Intercloud, which will feature APIs for rapid application development, will deliver a new enterprise-class portfolio of cloud IT services for businesses, service providers and resellers. . . . Its partner-centric business model, which enables partner capabilities and investments, is expected to generate a rapid acceleration of additional investment to drive the global scale and breadth of services that Cisco plans to deliver to its customers.”
What distinguishes this initiative from other global cloud operations like Amazon EC2, Rackspace, Apple iCloud, Microsoft Azure, or the NetApps-based Orange Business Services Global Cloud is the multi-provider, decentralized, and global approach adopted by Cisco. The Intercloud will have a unified architecture with OpenStack and open APIs. It will be provided by any number of Cisco partners (resellers: Ingram Micro, system integrators: Atos Canopy and Wipro, managed service providers: Logicalis, carriers: Telstra etc.), so Cisco expects its initial $1bn investment to be multiplied several times by its partners’ investments. That represents a massive scalability factor.
Cisco is uniquely located in the junction of Internet routing & switching infrastructure, cloud hardware, collaboration services, and network security. Its business model of maintaining a large and vibrant partner ecosystem is also well suited to bring such an Intercloud initiative to fruition.
So what hurdles does the Cisco Intercloud have to address to become a successful latecomer to a crowded market? Well, first of all, the tech hurdles facing any ultra-scalable global hybrid cloud solutions are daunting: consistent security, Layer 2 scale, VM migration, compatibility, network billing, network provisioning, and lack of bandwidth guarantees… just to name a few. Cisco, with its lineup of tier-1 eco-system partners, will have to convince customers that these bases are covered.
The legal and compliance hurdles focus not only on where data is stored, but also how data is encrypted and routed through different regulatory regimes — something routing algorithms today do not take into account. Then there’s pricing. Cisco products and services do not come cheap, and in the school of hard knocks and financial crisis, there are plenty of ways competitors can undercut this Cisco initiative on pricing. A mature Intercloud offering will clearly need to adapt to different audiences and value propositions.
The Cisco Intercloud proposition also presupposes significant advances in the underlying network infrastructure, notably network virtualization, NFV (Network Functions Virtualization), VON (Virtual Overlay Networks), SDN (Software-Defined Networks), and alignment of OpenFlow and Ethernet-based cloud architectures. Using OpenStack for cloud orchestration framework provides rich APIs so that resources like virtual machines, storage, virtual NFV appliances, overlay tunnels, and underlay networks can be woven together programmatically to ensure dynamic and rapid service delivery.
The Intercloud presents multinational customers with a new hybrid cloud value proposition. It will take time to emerge, but the Cisco vision does go further than any of its present day competitors.