Cisco Needs BMC To Supply Unified Virtual Management - InformationWeek

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3/18/2009
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Cisco Needs BMC To Supply Unified Virtual Management

At stake is Cisco's blade server, which will combine converged network components, then link to virtualized network and store resources under a single management interface.

An incremental step may be enough to give Cisco a foothold.

"Nobody of Cisco's size has come into the [blade] server market since Dell" did in 2001, Simpson said. Despite its size, Cisco will still have to convince server managers, who aren't necessarily in thrall to the network managers that Cisco normally talks to, to buy into a new line of blades. It will have to continue to invest in the design and manufacturing of blades, something that HP, Dell, IBM, and Sun have worked on for years. "Cisco has never moved into a market this size with so many established incumbents," Simpson added.

Cisco has assigned a key role in the process to BMC Software, the Houston systems management vendor, to deliver a combined management tool to supervise the different virtualized resources. Getting one management interface for servers, networking, and storage has been a stumbling block in the past. The fractious storage industry hasn't come up with a single interface for storage, because of its many competing vendors and conflicting standards. Several players have tried to advance a unified approach to deploying storage resources, said Simpson, and the industry "is littered with their skeletons."

This time around, virtualization vendors Microsoft and VMware may have the heft to overcome those barriers. Both Microsoft and VMware have the muscle to lay down a storage API for virtualized systems and insist storage vendors link their devices to servers through it, said Simpson. Such a unified storage pool is needed to realize the benefits of virtualization. Virtual machines to be moved from physical server to physical server need a single storage file system underneath them. VMware has gotten around the fractious industry barrier by coming up with its own. It's promising a storage API as part of its vCloud initiative that will let any storage vendor adopting the API to participate.

Beyond the storage, there's still the issue of delivering a single management interface that cuts across servers, storage, and networking. Cisco has vested its new partner BMC with the task of delivering a tool that understands converged network communications on a 10 Gigabit Ethernet fabric. It will understand how to divide that traffic across pooled networking and storage devices and how to divide up the capacity of existing devices between competing demands.

Existing management tools often go through a discovery and mapping phase, where they log the activity on various devices and gain some metrics for predicting traffic. The tool must then present the manager with choices on how to divide up his resources, and sound alerts when those choices are about to go awry.

When it comes to virtualized resources, however, the problem is compounded by the tendency to overallocate servers with resources. Since future demand can't be completely predicted, server administrators guard against failure by overprovisioning with CPU cycles, memory, and storage. To balance workloads and avoid overprovisioning, Cisco will need a new management tool that can view each of these virtualized resources and then apply the smarts to manage them as part of a single system.

Simpson said BMC and CA are the systems management vendors that are independent of IBM and HP, also systems management vendors, and in a position capable of delivering on a cross-vendor, total data center view of virtualized resources. Cisco chose BMC. Simpson said "don't hold your breath" that the tool will meet all the demands upon it in its first issue.

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