10 (more) things to know about Cisco’s Intercloud

Nick Earle introduces the Intercloud at Cisco Partner Summit 2014

Nick Earle, senior vice president of cloud sales and go-to-market at Cisco.

Cisco shook up the market on the eve of Cisco Partner Summit 2014 with the announcement of what it calls the Intercloud – a federation of public cloud services that will include both partner-branded cloud and Cisco-built cloud infrastructure.

When it announced Intercloud, it made it clear that it was a partner play, and introduced Australian telco Telstra as its first partner in the effort. But key details have yet to be announced, with Cisco president of sales and development Rob Lloyd promising that important details on partner participation and profitability will be revealed at its Cisco Live end user event in San Francisco in June.

Lloyd is championing the effort, a $1 billion-plus investment by Cisco, and Nick Earle, formerly services chief, has been named senior vice president of cloud sales and go-to-market. He’ll be tasked with setting up the Intercloud and building out partnerships.

Here are 10 things we learned at Partner Summit from Lloyd, Earle, Cisco Canada president Nitin Kawale, and Cisco Canada channel chief David De Abreu.

1. It will be Star Alliance for the cloud. With a touch of the iPhone App Store thrown in for good measure

Earle has a variety of metaphors and similes for his new business – but the one he went back to time and again was bringing the idea of airline alliances like Star Alliance, SkyTeam, and OneWorld, to the cloud world. While these alliances have airlines that are sometimes indirectly and sometimes directly competitive with each other, they band together to make for an easier and better customer experience, and to share some of the infrastructure for it. But there’s also going to be an aspect of it that’s like the mobile development revolution Apple introduced when it launches the iPhone App Store, as anyone will be able to introduce network-based apps and bring them to market across all Intercloud providers, including making them accessible to any solution providers tat are Intercloud literate.

2. There will be Canadian Cisco-built Intercloud elements

Earle said Cisco’s goal is to have 10 to 12 major cloud providers in major markets around the world up and running in the Intercloud within the next 12 months. Kawale said there Cisco Canada will be standing up at least part of the Intercloud in Canada, most notably for applications like WebEx and its Meraki cloud managed WiFi technology. It runs a Canadian cloud infrastructure for those SaaS offerings already, and it will bring at least that much to the Intercloud party.

3. Much Intercloud decision-making is being done at the country level

Both Kawale and De Abreu said that a priority over the next few months will be figuring out the in-country strategy for building, partnering, and marketing the Intercloud vision in Canada. With data sovereignty issues ranking right at the top of Cisco’s drivers for a truly global and federated public cloud structure, it’s no surprise that the networking giant is making many of its decision, and taking many actions, through its various international subsidiaries.

4. Intercloud is not Infrastructure-as-a-service, per se

Mention Intercloud as a direct competitor to public cloud IaaS giants like Amazon and Google, and you’ll draw a scowl from Earle. He dismisses it as “a lousy business, and getting worse.” He’ll even take some credit for price drops in public cloud compute and storage services that were announced immediately after the Intercloud announcement. Intercloud, Cisco says, is about a higher-value (and therefore higher-margin) cloud structure built with application needs and not lower-price-per-unit as its driving factor.

5. But it will embrace IaaS to scale

Cisco said Intercloud workloads will be able to be shared back and forth with public cloud giants, allowing businesses some flexibility with workloads that might be seen as more commodity. Earle says Cisco is already in “multiple conversations with multiple” public cloud providers, and expects to have more to say on the subject at Cisco Live. He added that the ability to hand workloads off to the public cloud when it makes sense will be key, allowing Cisco to pass appropriate workloads over to cheaper public cloud services as it scales its own higher-value offering.

6. There will be no exclusives, but there will be first-mover advantage

Australian telco Telstra made a big splash at Partner Summit, introduced as the first company to throw its hat in the ring for an Intercloud-connected cloud offering. But that doesn’t mean its rivals in the Australian market will be locked out. Earle said Cisco won’t offer exclusives to cloud provider partners in joining the Intercloud. But that those who get in early, and particularly those who are first in a give market to get connected, will get better terms and conditions than their peers who take a more hesitant approach.

7. There’s a “small i” intercloud and a “capital I” Intercloud

The “small i” intercloud refers to the software and systems that allow workloads to be passed back and forth between clouds, regardless of what platform on which those clouds are running. The “capital I” Intercloud is Cisco’s name for the federated cloud services that will be run under the “small i” intercloud software. Everybody got that?

8. Partner engagement will make it. Or break it.

Getting partners involved will be key. Yes, cloud providers getting connected are crucial to Cisco being able to scale its vision. But equally important will be Cisco’s reseller partners, who will be the force amplifier in taking Intercloud to its customer base, and who will help customers move workloads into the Intercloud and manage them once there. That’s one of the driving reasons behind Cisco making cloud training more central in its next generation partner program. Earle said that although the company has “a great business strategy,” the success of Intercloud will not be “a slam dunk” unless it gets it partner base trained, and enthusiastic (read: profitable) in the Intercloud.

9. Value-add will be key for partners

Box pushers need not apply, in Earle’s estimation, because those who don’t add value “will get commoditized very quickly, even more quickly than before.” And the value partners bring to the table will have to shift as well. Partners will have to delve deeper into things like APIs and Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure, on which Intercloud will be based, to meet customers need. “Partners have to go through a transition around understanding software value-add,” Earle said.

10. Cisco enjoys being the disruptor again

“There’s been a feeling for a couple of years that Cisco has been disrupted by others,” Earle said, likely referring to the SDN market, to which Cisco was criticized as being late to the game. “Now we’re getting back to doing the disrupting.”