Cisco insists it has a cloud strategy

Cisco's CTO of cloud computing says company can provide the building blocks for the array of clouds to come

There's a telling moment near the beginning of a video interview with Lew Tucker, Cisco CTO of cloud computing. The interviewer Neil Bu Wecker asks Lew -- who has been on board for almost six months -- to explain the networking company's cloud strategy "as we enter the space." A pregnant pause follows, then Wecker adds, "more aggressively."

The moment foreshadows one of the themes in the interview: Cisco wants the its customers, partners, and stockholders to know it's on top of cloud computing, it has a broad cloud strategy, and really, it's not too late for anyone to get in on the action. "We are very much at the beginning," Tucker says of cloud computing. "We're all at the same starting line here."

Notably, Cisco has talked up its cloud-oriented intentions in the past, with plenty of support for the play coming straight from the company's CEO John Chambers

Tucker cites Amazon Web Services as being ahead of the curve, a successful play geared toward Web developers and startups who need access to cheap on-tap computing power. He also says enterprises are now becoming interested in the model and the potential cost savings it can yield.

From Tucker's perspective, that's great news for the companies waiting at the beginning marks. It means a grand opportunity for lots of different clouds from lots of different providers. The space won't be dominated by one or two major providers; rather, companies will create various types of clouds to meet the needs of different vertical markets, such as the government, medical organizations in search of "HIPAA-compliant clouds"; and banks looking to push ATMs to the developing world.

That, in turn, is perfect for Cisco because it happens to tie perfectly into the company's cloud strategy: to help organizations who are building clouds themselves by providing the "essential architecture," such as the core networking gear, the unified computing systems, the security tools, and even the endpoints. By no surprise, the network is the platform -- and the center of Cisco's cloud strategy.

Reliable and secure networking blocks, according to Tucker, are critical to the cloud. To illustrate this point, Tucker notes that today's cars are "in essence mini-clouds driving around on the highway" that contain more than 200 devices connecting to the Internet. "I might want my car to talk to another car up ahead to see what's going on with the traffic -- but I don't want someone messing around with my brakes as I'm going," he says.

As for the nonvehicular clouds, Tucker makes the case that applications need to be separated from the systems architecture -- one app per server isn't efficient. It's not a particularly unique perspective on the cloud, which is all about providing a virtual pool of compute and storage resources.

To achieve that vision, Tucker says Cisco's strategy is to build APIs into "every networkable device we sell." These APIs would also enable the automation, management, and provisioning duties.

Cisco made a similar case in a whitepaper [PDF] outlining its network-powered cloud strategy: "In general, cloud services must support virtual network resources, expose the resources through APIs, allow manipulation of the resources on demand through APIs, provide some level of application resource visibility within the network, and provide comprehensive and dynamic policy support across the ISO/OSI network layer."

Follow Ted Samson on Twitter at tsamson_iw.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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