Server and storage administrators will soon be courted by someone they don’t normally deal with but has a good personality and a strong reputation. While this may sound like a worrisome proposition, it behooves them to entertain this entreaty. Cisco wants to help out with server virtualization and might just deserve a seat at the table. The true fruits of its Topspin acquisition emerged today at the Cisco Networkers event in Anaheim, California in the form of VFrame Data Center, an appliance designed to virtualize the connections between servers and storage (Ethernet, NAS, and SAN initially), allowing complete logical mapping of resources. Every physical connection becomes a virtual one that can be quickly and easily moved as business needs change. Where Cisco is aiming long-term is to enable a dynamic infrastructure that is completely divorced from physical layout and is as easy to reconfigure as assigning a VLAN today.

VFrame in its initial incarnation isn’t a breakthrough, as Scalent Systems’ Scalent V/OE and parts of the Opsware and BladeLogic products do similar things. But what makes this product different is the brand name behind it. On the positive side there’s the expected halo effect of its world-class service and support, possible integration with the rest of the well-established Cisco product family, and its global sales reach. However, many a slow-growth product has died an unfortunate death inside companies like Cisco who demand a minimum of $100M in revenue from each product family — a likely far off target for VFrame.

With power and space constraints paramount for most enterprise data centers, moves and adds are overly costly and complex these days. Administrators need freedom from these conflicting constraints. Physical layout should be done purely to maximize power, cooling, and space efficiency. Moving to a virtual infrastructure model where software loads, virtual connections, and availability mechanisms are fully divorced from the physical will maximize data center ROI and efficiency. This won’t happen without the network playing a big role and a more intelligent one. With VFrame, Cisco just might have something server and storage administrators ought to evaluate.

By James Staten.

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