This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

The downside of an architecture this big and grandiose is that it could be difficult for any customer to get their arms around.

As a company, Cisco is big on the concept of “architectures”. At its user conference, Cisco Live, this year, CEO John Chambers, listed the company’s top 5 priorities and among them was “architectures”. To Cisco, the concept of an architecture is to show customers how to build and manage solutions using the key technologies that Cisco and its partners provide.

A week after Cisco rolled out its Cloud Index, which measures and forecasts the growth of cloud traffic, the company launched its CloudVerse architecture. CloudVerse is intended to help its service provider and enterprise customers build and then manage and potentially connect private, hybrid and public clouds. The fundamental building blocks of CloudVerse, as listed by Cisco, are the Unifed Data Center, Cloud Applications and, of course, the Cloud Intelligent Network.

There are other vendors with cloud reference designs and architectures, but Cisco’s is the only one I can think of that puts the network at equal weight with the other components. A skeptical eye might look at this and think it’s self-serving for Cisco. Self-serving or not, there is some truth to this. During the CloudVerse launch, Chambers “popped in” via TelePresence and said something to the effect of “Cloud is the most network-centric computing model that we’ve seen”. And that statement is absolutely true. So if that’s true, then cloud should be made up of equal parts of network, computing, and applications.

One interesting observation about this announcement was that it really included very little new Cisco product. There were some management tools to help automate provisioning and management of data center resources, and a tool to help manage physical resources, but no new router, switches or servers. The focus of the announcement was to help Cisco customers manage, secure and connect clouds–the things that need to be done to get cloud out of the labs and into more production environments.

The downside of an architecture this big and grandiose is that it could be difficult for any customer to get their arms around. An architecture to deploy, manage and secure private, hybrid and public clouds? The vision is certainly utopian in nature but is there actually a journey to get there? This reminds me a lot of Cisco’s old “Intelligent Information Network” or IIN as it became known. It was a great vision, but it wound up being a wrapper for everything, which eventually made its usefulness to anyone limited.

However, it is possible to take the “cloud dream” that was laid out in the announcement and make it a reality. One way is to create a rap song like the collaboration rap launched at the collaboration summit (yes that was a joke, but I did like the video). Cisco needs to take the vision of CloudVerse and bring it down a level or more to smaller, more digestible initiatives to solve actual customer problems today. Want to use cloud to enable mobile applications on consumer devices? Do x, y and z. Because of how new and nebulous cloud is today, Cisco needs to bring this architecture down to practical levels to be executable on, and for Cisco to have success with it.

There was a part of the CloudVerse launch that I felt didn’t get the airtime it should have and that was the all of the enhancements to Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration Service (HCS). If you’re not familiar with HCS, this is Cisco’s hosted solution that service providers white label in order to offer a cloud based collaboration service. As part of the CloudVerse announcement, Cisco announced the following enhancements to HCS:

* Full feature parity with UC Manager.
* Private cloud HCS so customers can now build their own internal hosted collaboration solution
* HCS is now available through traditional resellers, not just network service providers
* Mobile HCS, which enables mobile service providers the ability to offer cloud-based collaboration services

The enhancements to HCS have now removed almost any barrier a customer might have in choosing a hosted solution. It has the same features as the premise based UC Manager and is available through any channel the customer wishes to procure the services, and if they prefer, deploy it as an in-house solution.

HCS has a fair bit of momentum already through the traditional service provider channel, but the ability for a systems integrator or VAR to sell the solution should increase the competitiveness in the channel. While this might be looked at as a negative, it will definitely continue the momentum that the product already has.

Overall, I did like the CloudVerse announcement but I do think that to make it a success, Cisco needs to make the execution more actionable than something like IIN was.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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