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Cisco Intercloud strategy hinges on hybrid cloud success

With Cisco's Intercloud Fabric, users can migrate workloads across different public and private clouds. But are enterprises really ready for a multi-cloud world?

Cloud users want the freedom to move their apps and data from one cloud to another. Cisco Systems, with its Intercloud strategy and new software for cloud-to-cloud portability, thinks it can help make that happen.

Cisco is now offering the production version of its Intercloud Fabric -- software that lets customers migrate workloads between different public, private and hybrid clouds -- in a move the networking titan says will continue to evolve its Intercloud strategy from vision to reality.

Intercloud Fabric, which in September became available to a select group of customers through Cisco's Early Customer Success Program, enables what Cisco calls "hypervisor-independent workload portability" across various public and private cloud platforms, including those from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.

The rollout of Intercloud Fabric comes one year after San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco unveiled its vision for Intercloud, a global network of connected private and public clouds. That network consists of both Cisco's own data centers, and those of its service provider partners.

Cisco's Intercloud partners can use the Intercloud Fabric to create customer portals, through which users can broker their applications and workloads across the Intercloud ecosystem. And, with the market steadily progressing toward hybrid cloud, demand for this type of workload portability is expected to grow, said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst of ZK Research, an analyst firm based in Westminster, Mass.

"Ultimately, what you want from cloud is the ability to move information between cloud providers, and I think that's something that, by and large, the industry needs to think about," Kerravala said.

I have 99.99% validation in every conversation I have, every day, that [hybrid cloud] is the direction for the next decade.
Rob Lloydpresident of development and sales at Cisco

That thought was top of mind for Cisco partner and cloud services provider Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) when it joined the Intercloud ecosystem nearly a year ago, said Jack Dziak, executive vice president, global products for Wayne, Penn.-based Sungard AS. The company noticed an uptick in customer demand for hybrid IT environments, where workloads and applications could be orchestrated across clouds, he said.

"A one-size-fits-all cloud, we feel strongly, doesn't fit the mold of the use cases we are seeing in the enterprise today," Dziak said.

The Intercloud ecosystem today consists of 60 service provider partners and 350 data centers around the globe, according to Rob Lloyd, Cisco's president of development and sales. Apart from providing scale, this global network of providers minimizes data sovereignty concerns by giving organizations more choice and control over where, geographically, their data is hosted, he added.

All 60 Intercloud partners, including Sungard AS, Deutsche Telekom, Logicalis and other service providers, will deploy Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI), a technology Lloyd pegged as another critical element to the overall Intercloud strategy.

"They are not all using ACI today," Lloyd said. "But they all have a committed roadmap to move to ACI as part of the differentiation that they will offer for those Intercloud workloads."

Underpinning Intercloud is the ACI policy model, which allows application policies, such as those for security, to remain intact as those applications move across the network and into different cloud environments, Lloyd said.

While Intercloud users can move workloads onto AWS and Azure through public APIs, the ACI policy model cannot be extended to these public cloud platforms, Lloyd added. The policy model, instead, can only be exported to the Intercloud partners deploying ACI.

What's next for Cisco Intercloud

When Cisco took the wraps off its Intercloud strategy last March, its vision for a global network of interconnected clouds wasn't entirely clear to some Cisco partners and users. Some questioned whether the vendor was simply too late to the cloud game, or if Intercloud could hold its own against other hybrid cloud services, such as those from VMware and IBM.

"I think that Intercloud, from a differentiation perspective, was meant to alleviate some of the criticism that Cisco has faced by coming late to the [cloud] marketplace," said Christopher Wilder, practice lead and senior analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, an analyst firm based in Austin, Texas.

The market's shift toward hybrid cloud could give Intercloud a boost, but it's still critical for Cisco to clearly articulate the value of Intercloud to its channel partners and customers as the vendor moves forward, Wilder added.

"Cisco has an interesting habit of only going into markets where they can become number one or number two," Wilder said. "But sometimes they come out with a muddled message, originally, and then the light goes on."

Lloyd declined to say how many Cisco customers, overall, use Intercloud services today. He said that most customer deployments to date have been in beta and, in some cases, haven't been publically disclosed.

Looking ahead, Cisco's goal is to continue to grow the Intercloud ecosystem, adding hundreds of additional service providers and thousands of new services over time.

Additionally, Cisco will expand its Intercloud footprint through Metacloud, Inc., a provider of OpenStack-based private clouds. Cisco acquired Pasadena, Calif.-based Metacloud in September, saying at the time that the company's OpenStack-based, private cloud as a service platform will allow Cisco customers to tap into the benefits of OpenStack, but in a private, more secured environment.

"Metacloud is a managed version of OpenStack that can be set up inside the customer's own environment, so they aren't worried about code security or intellectual property or information privacy -- which is critical in some development environments," Lloyd said.

Cisco in September pumped an additional $1 billion into its Intercloud strategy, following an initial $1 billion investment in March.  And, according to Lloyd, the company's confident its massive hybrid cloud bet will pay off. 

"I have 99.99% validation in every conversation I have, every day, that [hybrid cloud] is the direction for the next decade," Lloyd said. "That's what customers tell me, and that's what they tell us."

Customers can purchase Cisco Intercloud Fabric as a subscription, with pricing based on hybrid cloud units (HCUs). Cloud VMs within the Cisco Intercloud ecosystem consume one HCU, while VMs outside the ecosystem – such as those on AWS or Azure – consume two HCUs. Each HCU is $250 per year.

The Intercloud Fabric is also available through the Cisco ONE Enterprise Cloud Suite.

Kristin Knapp is site editor for SearchCloudComputing. Contact her at or follow @kknapp86 on Twitter.

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Is your organization considering Cisco Intercloud? Why or why not?
Hi Kristin,  how are security policies maintained today if ACI policy isn't used by all interCloud SPs?  

As Rob Llyod stated "Underpinning Intercloud is the ACI policy model, which allows application policies, such as those for security, to remain intact as those applications move across the network and into different cloud environments, Lloyd said."

Intact security policies are critical to customer adoption.

Hi Phil -- thanks for your question! According to Cisco, Intercloud
Fabric bundles Cisco Virtual
Security Gateway (VSG). If ustomers use VSG on-premises, the same policies
(for example firewall/zoning, etc.) can be automatically migrated to public
clouds and extended on VXLAN. If customers don't use VSG
on-premises, they can implement the same on-premises security policies on
public clouds using VSG through Intercloud Fabric.

I believe that Cisco is on the right track. I would like to see a new set of tools develop from this Intercloud strategy.
It’s been my experience on multi cloud environments that the cloud tools today align with provisioning, finance, application management. But when it comes to multi cloud diagnostics and failure analyses there are no tools sets designed for this model.
So I came up with my own.
New Failure Term:
The electron cloud theory

The idea that the location of a data stream circulating a multi cloud environment can only be approximated.
That it is impossible to know for certain where a data stream is at any given time. Data movement around the multi cloud environment takes on the appearance of a cloud, and wherever the cloud is densest is where there is the highest probability of finding a failure point. Where the cloud is least dense is where the lowest probability lies. This theory usurps the previous notion that electrons have defined orbits and replaces it with the concept that they have different energy levels that help to approximate each electron's position in the cloud.