Cisco, Microsoft cooperation provides alternative to VMware

Virtual switch support means Microsoft Hyper-V will become more attractive, but VMware's ESXi has a sizable lead

Cisco support will make Microsoft's Hyper-V environment more attractive to corporate customers, but it remains to be seen whether that's enough for Hyper-V to give VMware's ESXi a run for its money.

Cisco says it will offer virtual switch support for Hyper-V that is similar to what it already offers to VMware environments via its Nexus 1000v virtual switch, meaning a richer network layer view of what's going on among virtual machines.

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The collaboration of Cisco and Microsoft will give customers better monitoring and control of the virtual environment than they would get with the current option -- using the native virtual switch that ships with Hyper-V, says Mike Spanbauer, principal analyst with Current Analysis. "There's simply more features than within the [Cisco] switch," he says. "There are more network features to support a more manageable environment."

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Spanbauer says it's not clear what effect Cisco's support for Microsoft will have on the percentage of customers that choose Hyper-V over ESXi, a battle that currently is pretty convincingly being won by ESXi. "This will further extend visibility and control so the network team can manage and influence data flows and have some handle on the performance of the entire environment," Spanbauer says.

But customers using VMware instead will have similar improved visibility. "My guess is that it will be close if not equitable," he says.

How big a deal this will be when it comes time for enterprises to pick a virtual environment isn't clear. "It's hard to determine how influential network insight is to virtual-platform choice," he says. Customers ultimately will decide based on whether the Hyper-V option solves specific problems they are having managing cloud deployments, he says.

The decision won't be made just based on that, though. Factors such as storage, memory and licensing issues will all weigh into what customers ultimately choose, he says.

Cisco's support for Hyper-V will come next year only after Microsoft releases Windows Server 8, which includes Hyper-V 3.0 and its augmented virtual-switch capabilities.

Cisco says it will offer two ways to peek inside Hyper-V physical machines to mine network-layer information about Hyper-V virtual machines and to extend Cisco network-layer monitoring, management and configuration to them.

The first is a version of Cisco's Nexus 1000V Series switch designed to support Hyper-V. It is a distributed virtual switch that fits Hyper-V virtual machines with virtual Ethernet cards that can be managed via another component of the switch, Cisco's Virtual Supervisor Module.

The supervisor module is tightly integrated with Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager, Cisco says, which will enable customers to set separate privileges for different classes of administrators. The Virtual Supervisor Module can be deployed on a physical appliance or on a virtual machine. The entire distributed switch can be hosted on a Cisco physical appliance called Nexus 1010 Virtual Services Appliance.

The combination gives current administrators in Cisco shops easier management of the virtual machines because they can deal with them via Cisco NX-OS software that they are already familiar with, Cisco says. The virtual machines seem as if they are extensions of the physical network, making it easier to enforce policies, to provision and to diagnose problems on the virtual machines, Cisco says. Rather than deal with the virtual environment separately, it is brought under one umbrella.

Nexus 1000V is also integrated with other Cisco products so their features can be applied to virtual machines. The virtual switch will support three virtual network services products at launch. First, Virtual Security Gateway provides zoned security policies for multi-tenant virtual environments. Second, Virtual Wide Area Application Services supports accelerated application performance for applications hosted on virtual servers in data centers and private clouds. Third, Network Analysis Module grants visibility into the virtual environment for troubleshooting performance problems.

The second alternative Cisco will offer for gaining better visibility into Hyper-Vis a new version of Cisco Unified Computing System Virtual Machine Fabric Extender, which extends Cisco management to virtual environments. The benefit is similar to that of Nexus 1000V in that it gives a network-layer view and controls of the virtual environment, Cisco says.

With UCS VM-FEX administrators can treat the physical and virtual elements of their networks as a single infrastructure for provisioning, configuration, management, monitoring and troubleshooting.

The new products will work with Windows Server 8 but not earlier versions of Windows Server. Existing versions of Nexus 1000V and UCS VM-FEX already work with Hyper-V competitor VMware's virtual environments.

Cisco says pricing isn't available yet for the new products.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.

This story, "Cisco, Microsoft cooperation provides alternative to VMware" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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