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Cisco exec Marie Hattar talks network virtualization, cloud computing

When Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers touched on network virtualization at the company's analyst day Tuesday, it signaled a new mission for Cisco. The company wants to make the network a key part of virtualization. Toward that end, at VMware's VMworld in Las Vegas this week, Cisco released a load of new technologies aimed at making the network smart enough to recognize virtual machines so they can be more easily secured and managed.

New offerings include a virtual switch, virtualization-enabling software that can be embedded in Cisco's hardware switches, storage area network (SAN) switching modules with an upgraded operating system, and improved WAN acceleration functions.

To spread this message, Marie Hattar, Cisco's vice president of network systems and security solutions, spoke at Interop New York Wednesday to address the role of the network in virtualization.

After her address, Hattar sat down with to discuss network virtualization, cloud computing and how Cisco partners play into it all.

What is network virtualization?
The virtualized network has a lot of definitions. Virtualization isn't a new concept. We came up with VLANs [virtual LANs] to provide segmentation. We have implemented a lot of capabilities in terms of routing and switching technologies so we can have good visibility and deliver good quality of service to different applications. One of the challenges … today is if you take a computing device or server and run a VMware server on it, without a properly virtualized network, the network just sees that you are connected to a [physical] computer or a server. It doesn't have the ability to see the virtual machines that are on that computer or server. We have innovated at Cisco to take our switching capabilities and bring them onto that server. Just yesterday we made an announcement with VMware about the Nexus 1000V, which essentially brought our switching capabilities on a software basis that could sit with VMware and provide that visibility to see what's going on with each specific VM. So you can apply the networking capabilities that we've now had for a long time with our physical network. Now we can provide that VM granularity from the networking standpoint.

Other options are virtualizing the actual network to better segment it and give different resources higher priority. If you treat every [application] the same without any sort of segmentation, then you run into the old days when Voice over IP was first around, and as soon as you sent a big file it would become [degraded]. Today with applications like telepresence you need a network that is intelligent and can also virtualize itself so that you can apply the right resources to the right types of applications. What's the challenge in managing virtualized networks?
When you virtualize, you don't have full visibility. If you're a company and you've bought storage, they give you a box and it's got your name on it. You go to that data center and it's yours. When you virtualize, you're essentially being given a service contract that says you have the same amount of storage as if you had your own personal box, but now it could potentially be sitting on many different machines. With that it becomes much more complex to have visibility. The tools are being developed to enable better management. As you evolve and get into things like virtual machine mobility, it becomes even more about how you keep track of where things are. Then the VM [virtual machine] moves from device to device. How does Cisco address that?
We are working with a variety of partners and we are also bringing the power of the network to it. What's happening today is what happened with the Internet. All of a sudden you had all these different devices coming on to what was essentially a small network. It grew and blossomed and we built a lot of that technology to help manage those networks. We are taking the same approach and enabling it in the virtualized environment. The Nexus 1000V was the first step in bringing that networking intelligence to a virtualized environment where you can have that same transparency as you have in the physical environment. What challenges do channel partners face selling virtualization technologies?
It's a new concept, so it will probably require them to have new practices and new skill sets, and it's a completely different conversation. It will mean new specializations for them, and ultimately as you get into things like Software as a Service, they can actually get into some of the abstract services APIs. Channel partners can develop a full practice where they can do some of the automation and the programming of some of the virtualization components they may be selling. So it creates a new service strength for them. You talked about Cisco helping enterprises build their own clouds. How does a channel partner help enterprises do that?
This is still a very early area in terms of the whole private cloud arena. A lot of the software is still in the early development phase. What you're seeing is early trials of companies testing out some of these applications. The step toward getting to some of those private clouds is built-in automation within your enterprise. From a cloud perspective, you still need a network; you're going to need the storage capabilities; you're going to need applications that ride on top of that; you're going to need the security capabilities. A lot of our participation so far has been in providing that security capability as you virtualize and providing the glue of the network to connect to all those pieces and apply that intelligence. Our role has been on working to help optimize the network's role … and helping enterprises squeeze as much as they can out of their infrastructure. Where do partners play in SaaS?
I think a lot of their role ends up being in roll-out and deployment. It is the same way that a lot of partners make their profitability when they sell a switch or a router -- not in just selling the piece of hardware, but also in the configuration and the training and the roll-out across the company. You'll see with SaaS that you subscribed to Software as a Service, but there has to be that managed service. What changes will occur on existing enterprise switches like Catalyst 6500?
We have a commitment to ensuring a long life cycle. As you look at virtualization, we have many hyper-advanced features within our Catalyst switches. We already provide all of the segmentation and separation technologies in our current catalyst products. We built all of that, but we're on the cusp of [exponential growth in] virtualization, so all of a sudden all of those capabilities will start being used. They are available, but they are just not turned on yet.

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