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Cisco's Data Center 3.0 vision takes data centers virtual

Moving to expand its Data Center 3.0 initiative, Cisco says virtualization is about more than servers -- it's about the network.

Cisco Systems Inc. expanded its Data Center 3.0 strategy Tuesday, launching a series of virtualization software products plus supporting resources for partners and end users.

The thrust of Cisco's message, unveiled at the Cisco Live conference in Orlando -- where it initiated Data Center 3.0 last year -- was that virtualization is not just for servers, but for the entire application delivery network, as well as the data center. To that end, this week's release includes wide area application services (WAAS) 4.1 software with embedded virtualization; the Application Control Engine (ACE) switch 3.1, with double the capacity of the original offering; and a network provisioning application, VFrame Data Center software release 1.2.

"Partners ask, 'Is there more [to virtualization] than virtual servers?'" said Mark Weiner, director of product management and marketing in the applications delivery unit at Cisco. "Absolutely," he said.

WAAS 4.1 enables enterprises to host applications like Windows Server 2008 at the branch office without having to build out additional expensive and power-hungry hardware.

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"We can now tee up a virtual blade," Weiner said. The idea is that enterprises can choose which applications are most important to keep closer to the branch and then choose the specific components of the application they want to deliver.

In addition, WAAS 4.1 can accelerate specific applications, including Microsoft Exchange, Web applications, live and on-demand video and Unix/Linux file sharing. Cisco also claims it has simplified deployment of WAAS.

Partners can push WAAS on the selling point that it helps the enterprise keep applications local at the branch without the heavy expense of building out separate server infrastructure. The design and layout of the virtual network extension will apparently still bring partners margins, as well as turn the relationship between the partner, Cisco and the customer "from a transaction into an interaction," according to Raphe Reeves, a vice president at Atlanta-based Cisco partner ProSys Inc. "Prosys is really about understanding their businesses to help them get to the point where they are bigger and better than their competition," Reeves said about ProSys customers.

"Providing more and more services at the branch level," where the "customer-facing piece is," only helps build business, Reeves added.

In addition to WAAS, Cisco announced that it has doubled the virtual performance capacity of the Application Control Engine 3.1 up to 4 Gbps of throughput with up to 2 bps of compression. Cisco also upgraded its virtualized load balancing and security services to better enable bandwidth-heavy applications like video and IP voice to share the network without degrading the quality of applications. The software better supports Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and Real Time Streaming Protocol.

The final part of the Data Center 3.0 software release is the VFrame Data Center 1.2, a provisioning platform that enables IT administrators to optimize virtual computing and storage resources across the network. The software works with ACE, as well as VMware ESX, so it can virtualize servers to ACE devices or choose a server out of a utility pool and configure it end-to-end with ESX.

Reeves said Cisco's combination of software enables ProSys to bring "a holistic solution" to customers and not just "a point product."

To support the software, Cisco offers a Web-based tool called Efficiency Assurance Program, which helps partners and users analyze data center power usage across the infrastructure to identify problems and develop strategies for higher efficiency.

Most importantly for partners, Cisco upgraded its Data Center Assurance Program (DCAP), which has always included architecture design plans for engineers and now includes information for the new data center and application delivery technology. The updates offer best practices for data center design layouts and application delivery networks. Weiner noted that DCAP includes recommendations for layout with specific applications -- and that list has been updated and expanded to include Oracle business and Microsoft communications applications, among others.

Putting aside the guesswork, Weiner said, partners can download configuration guides for similar networks. The information can also show partners what returns they might see on an infrastructure implementation while they are still early in the business cycle, Weiner said.

Cisco will also add technical training for partners offering the newly released software. The WAAS and VFrame software and the ACE appliance will be available by the end of the summer.

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