Cisco Cloud CTO: Cisco Cloud Computing Strategy Starts With Infrastructure

"Cisco does have a cloud strategy. I think we just haven't been out there articulating it," Cisco Cloud CTO Lew Tucker said in an interview with CRN.

Tucker said the industry's message around cloud computing last year was defining what the cloud was, but the main cloud computing message now and into 2011 is "what are we actually going to do to make it happen?"

While on the surface it may appear that Cisco has been a laggard when it comes to attacking the cloud computing market, the addition of Tucker as Cisco's Cloud CTO is designed to change that. Tucker is taking the virtualization groundwork Cisco laid with its Unified Computing System (UCS), integrated compute, storage and networking play, and taking it into the cloud.

Tucker calls Cisco's cloud strategy "all-encompassing," and though it's still taking shape, he's quick to point out what that strategy is not. "We're not going to offer our own cloud...We instead are really focusing on providing the infrastructure components and complete solutions for people who are building clouds, deploying clouds or using clouds."

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Cisco's decision to not offer its own cloud stems from not wanting to compete with its service provider customers and to let enterprises use Cisco gear to build and run their own clouds.

Cisco's cloud strategy instead is a three-pronged attack; targeting the partners and providers that are building clouds, deploying clouds and using clouds. One leg provides the fundamental building blocks for the cloud, the primary infrastructure where Cisco already plays; the second is partnering with software players like VMWare and EMC to offer integrated systems and solutions like UCS and to provide those systems to telcos and service providers looking to deploy clouds and cloud services; and third, Cisco wants to drive the acceleration of the cloud by providing secure access to the cloud whether that be through security, mobility, Telepresence and solutions like the Cisco Cius business tablet.

And while the UCS launch in 2009 got Cisco's foot in the virtualization door, Tucker said Cisco is now starting to develop cloud-specific product sets that will put Cisco's infrastructure at the center of the cloud computing stage. Those virtualization and cloud plays, Tucker said, will rely on Cisco's traditional bread and butter: The network.

"Networking really is the top platform for cloud computing as we go forward," he said. "Cisco's cloud strategy, and we summarize it very directly, is we offer the primary essential building blocks and integrative systems for people who want to build clouds. That's our core networking gear and our UCS system."

Cisco's Cloud Computing Strategy: Where Partners Play Tucker said Cisco's cloud play will be aimed at systems integrators, service providers and other partners that work with Cisco's networking gear. That gear will be used to stand up clouds whether it's service providers launching clouds to offer to their customers or enterprises building their own internal clouds.

"Almost all of our products play into the cloud in one way or another whether it's video, WAN optimization, all of these things play into the building blocks for people putting together the system architectures," he said. "It always starts with architecture. You're building a system. And a cloud model, whether it is a public cloud or private cloud, is a router sophisticated system implementation that you're doing that's tightly integrated into your networking infrastructure."

Cisco's channel will play a major role in propelling Cisco into the cloud stratosphere. Tucker said cloud computing offers a strong opportunity to systems integrators and solution providers looking to bring their customers into the cloud.

"Doing this right requires help," he said. "The whole idea behind moving to this model is to get some real cost savings and to get some speed of delivery. That means architecture becomes really important. If you do this wrong you're not likely to see these benefits and you're going to fall back to your old way of doing it."

Tucker said Cisco is now tasked with educating partners on cloud architectures and supply them with information to articulate the value and benefits of the cloud. For Cisco's traditional networking partners, Tucker likens it to the transition they faced with VoIP years ago. It's preparing for a new system that along with routers and switches adds compute and storage to the mix.

"If you can set up a VoIP system, then this is a piece of cake," he said.

Another opportunity for partners is the verticalization of clouds, where different clouds are tailored to specific industries creating a market for cloud providers and cloud integrators that specialize in those verticals.

"Some [solution providers] think the cloud is going to threaten their business and there will only be a few large cloud providers: Google, Amazon or whoever," he said. "I think quite the opposite. There will be many different kinds of clouds, largely organized around different verticals that have compliance requirements."

Overall, Tucker said, Cisco rocketing into the cloud is a natural progression and the next step in the evolution of networking and the Internet.

"This is just the next step in networking, the Internet and everything else. Let's get real about it," he said. "All that we've done is instead of just getting content for applications over the Internet now you're actually getting more infrastructure as well; virtual infrastructure. But it's the same model. You have to provide security, secure access, you have to be able to provide multi-tier networks that are now virtualized."