Cisco expands Intercloud Fabric capabilities, community

aid Nick Earle, senior vice president of cloud and managed services at Cisco

aid Nick Earle, senior vice president of cloud and managed services at Cisco

Cisco’s Intercloud initiative, first announced at Partner Summit 2014, continues to grow, with the company adding new technology to the mix, as well as introducing a slew of new partners, at its Cisco Live event in San Diego this month.

Cisco describes Intercloud as a mesh of technologies that allows true cloud-to-cloud flexibility, and calls it one of the kingpins of its “hybrid IT” mantra. Along with Cisco- and Cisco partner-hosted cloud offerings, Intercloud Fabric offers a way for businesses to quickly and easily move workloads around between Intercloud-compliant clouds, both private and public, creating a network of clouds in the same way the Internet emerged as the “network of networks” in the 1990s.

“If we’re going to make a really big play for the cloud, it looks kind of similar to what we did years ago in moving from the world of isolated PC LANs to the Internet,” said Nick Earle, senior vice president of cloud and managed services at Cisco.

And as much as cloud is about centralizing IT assets, the Intercloud effort also embraces “fog computing,” essentially cloud turned inside out, where much more of the compute happens closer to the edge of the network, a phenomenon that’s being powered by the emerging role of operational technology (OT) in the Internet of Things world.

“Today we talk about cloud as bursting out from the data centre to Azure or to Google, but the real issue is beyond that – the hyper-distribution of data, clouds, and new applications at the edge of the network,” Earle said. “Already OT is several times larger than IT, and that trend is accelerating, because when products become cloud-enabled, they become 10 times more valuable.”

While that might sound hyperbolic, there are certainly (predominantly consumer) examples to back up Earle’s big numbers – consider the price premium for a Nest smart thermostat over a standard thermostat, smart door locks over normal door locks, or the Phillips Hue smart light bulbs over the generic everyday bulb.

The big difference, Earle says, is that the closer compute moves to the edge of the network, the more applications and user experiences start to be essentially architected of micro-services that are brought together dynamically, as the user wants. And not necessarily in the domain that traditionally belongs to IT.

“Classic IT doesn’t solve these problems. You don’t connect to the edge of the network with Oracle 8,” Earle said. “It’s not just about connecting things. You have to offer an experience, which means you have to start developing applications.”

That means Cisco needs to put a big push on development skills – both within its existing channel base, and in the ISV community. That increased focus was on display at Cisco Live with a vastly-expanded DevZone for developers.

ISVs and developers “is a piece we hadn’t stoop up and planted ourselves behind” historically, said Peder Ulander, vice president of marketing for cloud services at Cisco. “But in the cloud, code becomes more important.”

A year into the effort to build connections with developers, the company is still being strategic with whom it partners, finding “the people who are critical to what we’re delivering.” The focus is on developer platforms, big data and analytics, Internet of Things applications, and cloud services. Because cloud and IOT demand more, smaller developers, Ulander said one of Cisco’s biggest roles is to connect those specialist developers with “the crown jewels of Cisco,” its partner base.

On the technology side, Cisco introduced several enhancements to Intercloud Fabric, the product responsible for the ability to flex amongst Intercloud-compatible clouds and to and from public clouds. Enhancements are particularly around security, with policies developed for Intercloud workloads now able to follow their workloads when they’re moved to Microsoft’s Azure platform, for example. Ulander said Cisco and Microsoft are “doing joint work” around creating policies based on Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure, its SDN effort, to bring enhanced control for Intercloud clients who want to work with Azure. Work is also well underway to ensure that existing public cloud virtual machines can be brought into Intercloud Fabric management tools, and to support service providers’ virtual private clouds.

As with any Intercloud launch, partners played a major role. At Cisco Live, the company announced 10 new partners introducing Intercloud Fabric services on the company’s online marketplace for such services, including a few familiar faces.

Presidio, a major U.S.-based Cisco partner, introduced a service catalogue as a service offering based on Intercloud, while Calgary-based Long View Systems rolled out its first Intercloud Fabric offering, a managed service based o n the technology.

“The promise of cloud is fantastic, but the execution can be challenging for customers,” said Craig Cook, director of cloud and managed services at Long View. “It can be challenging, complex, and risky, and we’re aiming to make it simpler and easier for our customers.”

Intercloud Fabric is a great way for enterprises to go to the cloud because it addresses concerns with vendor lock-in, he said, and that works well with Long View’s own philosophy of whatever infrastructure that works best for the customer being the right infrastructure. That can vary greatly by customer size and IT complexity.

Along with reduced complexity for hybrid and private cloud solutions with technologies like Intercloud, Cook hailed the development of Canadian data centres for more major cloud applications as an important development in making sure the full range of cloud applications and infrastructures are available to Canadian customers. Perhaps the biggest of those recent developments is Microsoft’s announcement that it will open two data centres in Canada to help address data residency concerns for Canadian customer around its Office 365 applications and Azure cloud infrastructure.

“This is going to knock down a couple of more walls for us and our customers,” Cook said of the recently cloud developments.