Cisco VXI operates at UC, data centre, desktop virtualization intersection

Cisco VXI phoneCisco’s new Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) product line and strategy is seeking to bring together some of the hottest opportunities for the networking vendor and its partners, the company says.

Introduced last week, VXI is the intersection of resellers’ data centre, borderless network, collaboration and desktop virtualization practices, and aims to solve one of the biggest challenges in desktop virtualization – the integration of rich media, said Richard McLeod, senior director of worldwide partner collaboration sales and practice management.

Cisco is expecting to see demand for virtualized desktop technology to see 5x growth over the next two to three years, and McLeod said it’s “top of mind today with CIOs we’re speaking to,” with the expectation that as many as 30 to 50 million desktops will go virtual over the next two years, a number being accelerated by the adoption of Windows 7. But video and voice remain sticking points.

“Customers are wrestling with it. On one hand, they’re moving towards desktop virtualization and standardizing around that, but they’re also finding that when they mix that with collaboration, there are hoops there with video, with voice and with mobility,” McLeod said. “VXI allows us to enable desktop virtualization that provides rich, high-quality collaboration.”

Cisco is offering three endpoint devices for VXI: the previously announced Cius tablet device will support the environment, as will the new Virtualization Experience Client 2110 and 2210 products. The latter is a traditional stand-alone thin client device, while the 2110 bolts onto the back of the company’s 8800 and 9900 series IP phones, offering a virtual desktop environment with nothing more than the phone and a connected monitor, keyboard and mouse.

On the backend, the system runs off Cisco’s Unified Computing System data centre servers and supports virtualization stacks from Citrix and VMware as well as thin client devices from vendors including Wyse and Igel.

But the real secret sauce of VXI, McLeod said, is in the way it handles rich media. Typically, great support of video and voice over virtualized environments has been a challenge. The more real-time nature of those media tend to not get along very well with flowing into and out of the data centre en route to their ultimate destination. But with all three of its VXI endpoints, Cisco is essentially splitting out video, voice and the rest of the virtualized desktop traffic, allowing it to maintain the quality of service needed for the communications technologies.

It’s part of what Cisco is calling “the workspace of the future,” marrying new concepts like device independence to tried-and-true ideas like reducing total cost of ownership for technologies. McLeod describes it as a force multiplier for the company’s channel partners.

“It takes a Cisco data centre practice, a borderless networking practice and a VDI practice into a situation where one plus one is eight or ten,” he said. “This is a huge market and it’s growing incredibly rapidly as well. It’s giving partners access to new decision makers and budgets, and we’re offering compelling reasons to upgrade current voice systems and to take current UC customers to the latest release.”

It’s a field that is managed services-friendly, and typically pulls through $5 or $6 in services for every dollar of hardware and software sold, McLeod said. Cisco is helping partners get up to speed in the space with reference architectures, pre-tested designs, and technical, sales and strategy training across the VXI lineup.

Beyond the VXI-specific products, McLeod said the company sees VXI creating pull through for its data centre servers and unified communications products – giving those on older versions a reason to move to the latest editions to support a desktop virtualization rollout, and giving those who haven’t yet been motivated to move off a traditional PBX environment additional motivation to do so.

“Everybody’s looking at the data centre, everybody’s looking at video, and everybody’s looking at VDI. They all tie together,” he said.

Although the very concept may seem to rest on a potentially tenuous intersection of partner skillsets, McLeod said there’s a great deal of overlap already represented in the Cisco partner base. He said that “virtually every one” of the company’s unified communications partners also has a networking practice “because that’s the foundation of it all.” And now that the latest versions of Cisco’s unified communications platforms are virtualized to run on UCS, McLeod reports that “70 to 80 per cent” of those UC partners have strong data centre practices. And with the momentum of virtual desktops in the market, many of those partners have existing practices or are building them up as we speak. “We’re seeing almost 100 per cent overlap in many instances,” McLeod said.