Cloud Wars: VMware vCloud Suite vs. Cisco IAC + Cloupia

VMware vCloud Suite and Cisco IAC + Cloupia continue to emerge as the two dominant commercial cloud stacks. Organizations adhering to Gartner’s advice not to mix and match when it comes to building a private cloud increasingly will face a choice between VMware’s “top-down” or Cisco’s “bottom’s-up” approach.

Best Friends
A Cisco SE told me not long ago, “VMware may be our best friend – but they’re not our only friend.” VMware’s July 2012 acquisition of the Software-Defined Networking company, Nicira, resulted in widespread media speculation that the two organizations would now find themselves at odds.

But long before the Nicira purchase, Cisco and VMware were already engaged in a networking skirmish. When introduced in 2009, the Cisco Nexus 1000V virtual switch was widely promoted to clients by VMware sales reps. Things quietly changed and for some time now, VMware reps have emphasized their own vSphere Distributed Switch (VDS) instead of the Cisco product.

VMware hasn’t said much about how Nicira will impact VDS or whether it will be incorporated into its vCloud Suite. Meanwhile, Cisco has evolved the Nexus 1000V to become the foundation for its cloud networking stack. Increasing integration is now anticipated with Cloupia.

And speaking of Cloupia, its November 2012 acquisition by Cisco set up a subtext of the brewing cloud stack battle since it competes directly against the July 2012 VMware acquisition of DynamicOps.

Coincidentally, both of these products overlap with the preexisting suite capabilities of their new owners which can lead to confusion as to when to utilize them. DynamicOps (now called vCAC), for example, provides both self-service catalog and chargeback – capabilities already available in vCloud Suite.

Though Cloupia (now called CUIC) is not part of IAC, it is frequently sold in conjunction with the product. It provides overlapping capabilities with IAC such as a services catalog, orchestration and an automation framework.

Not unexpectedly, both acquisitions still require significant integration within the product family which further makes for difficult choices. As an example, vCAC does not yet extract all of the objects managed by vCloud Director. And CIAC has not yet integrated with the pre-built automation of Flexpod provisioning in CUIC.

Differing Private Cloud Philosophies
Cisco maintains that everything starts with converged infrastructure. Its bottom’s up private cloud approach is designed to provide more flexibility in working with multiple hypervisors, APIs and management tools.

Cisco also says that specifically designed hardware and custom built ASICs provide superior performance – especially on a larger scale. This is why switches replaced software bridging and why Cisco UCS does so well on the VMware VMmark benchmark scores.

VMware’s messaging, on the other hand, focuses on the software-defined data center (SDDC). From VMware’s vantage point, abstracting all of the data center components from the underlying physical resources provides more flexibility and versatility. Specific networking, storage and compute equipment are no longer required. This top-down approach also allows for easier application of polices, such as security, across all hardware platforms.

In reality, the VMware and Cisco cloud stack approaches are probably much closer than the organizations’ marketing would indicate. Both manufacturers are well aware of the requirement to support diverse software and hardware platforms.

Choosing the Right Stack
An organization committed to VMware that utilizes network and compute products other than Cisco may be more inclined to implement vCloud Suite than IAC in order to maintain a consistent architecture. A committed Cisco networking shop, or one considering Cisco UCS, may find the Cisco story more compelling.

Most organizations considering private cloud probably utilize both VMware and Cisco products. If they have heavy automation requirements, they may gravitate toward CUIC which has an advantage in terms of providing out-of-the-box automation. This is particularly true when utilized in conjunction with the NetApp FlexPod. Cloupia was one of the earliest FlexPod Validated Management Partners.

Organizations with primary requirements for an easy-to-implement services catalog that centers around virtualization and virtual containers may be more inclined to go the VMware route. IAC is highly customizable, but can require more time to accommodate individual needs.

These use cases aside, an organization considering private cloud should not get mired in comparing cloud stack features. A private cloud is pointless, after all, if the business units refuse to utilize it. Building a private cloud based upon products, technologies or architectures tends to lead to low adoption rates.

Designing an optimal private cloud starts with identifying the business objectives and associated requirements. Only then should organizations seriously investigate the appropriate architecture and equipment, evaluating them within the context of the business objectives they want to achieve.

Thanks to Presidio’s Vishal Nangrani who contributed to this article.
See Also:

Martin Casado on Changing Networking. 02/14/2013. Stu Miniman. Wikibon.

VMware’s SDN Dilemma: VXLAN or Nicira? 01/13/2013. Greg Fero. Network Computing.

Cisco’s Nexus 1000V Evolves to a Networking Stack Foundation. 02/02/2012. Steve Kaplan. By The Bell.

Cisco UCS Sets World-Record Cloud Computing Performance. 09/08/2012. Cisco Brochure.

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