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Inside Cisco's private cloud

John Dix | March 6, 2014
The company has virtualised all servers supporting internal IT and is now getting ready to deploy SDN.

Server costs
Before Cisco started to aggressively pursue virtualization and build out its private cloud, Manville estimated the total cost of ownership of a physical server inside a data center taking into account hardware, operations costs, space, power, people, etc. was about $3,600 per quarter. 

In a Q&A we did with Manville in the fall of 2010, he estimated that virtualization, combined with the move to UCS and cloud technology, would push that cost down to around "$1,600 — on average — per operating system instance per quarter." He said that, if the company got a "a little bit more aggressive about virtualization and squeezing applications down a little bit more, we think we can get the TCO down to about $1,200 per operating system instance per quarter."

The reality today? "We've blown that figure away," Manville says. The average virtual machine now costs Cisco $300 to $400 per quarter. "And that includes some aspects of the middleware, some aspects of databases, it includes what we would assume a middle-sized application would use in terms of storage, and obviously the network and compute layer." 

These figures are based on normalized costs, Manville says, meaning he uses average prices that customers would actually see.

Layering on SDN
The next step big step forward for Cisco IT will be adding the company's recently announced Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) technology, Cisco's take on Software Defined Networking. 

Manville expects a broad set of benefits. 

In terms of application service migration, for example, he says ACI is "going to allow us to move not just the virtual machine, which is relatively easy these days, but all the services around it. And that, I think, is a major step forward." 

And he expects to see gains in operational excellence because of information they will be able to collect from the switches themselves. "That's going to allow us to do a lot more than we can today," Manville says. "If a port on a switch is dropping too many packets we can take it out of service automatically rather than having some CCIE hunt around looking for the degradation. So we think there's an awful lot of things we can do to be much more proactive." 

But one of the main advantages will be adoption of the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller. APIC will provide a high-level abstract language for programming configurations, making it much easier, Manville says. "For example, we won't have to get into identifying specific ACLs anymore. We'll be able to speak at a much higher level, and also do that in an automated way. The ACL thing is a major issue for us and customers. We have thousands of ACL lines, and that's very difficult to manage, to make sure that ACL is doing what you expect it to do. So one of the key advantages is around configuration."


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