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Multi-tenancy alliance could enable virtual data centers

NetApp, Cisco, VMware multi-tenancy effort could speed deployment of virtual data centers.

For VARs, yet another industry alliance around easing deployment of virtual data centers might help jump-start IT upgrades.

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This time out, it's NetApp teaming with Cisco Systems and VMware on a design architecture for secure, reliable multi-tenancy IT foundations of virtual data centers.

In theory, the pretesting and validation of the companies' respective products will make it easier for systems integrators, VARs and their customers to securely deploy critical applications.

VARs and users agree with the premise that solid multi-tenancy is critical for cloud computing and virtual data centers. Multi-tenancy, which securely separates different applications and data sets on the same infrastructure, is particularly important for HIPAA and other applications that are subject to strict compliance and security regulations.

It's a "must have" for cloud and managed services provider Tier 3, in Seattle, Wash., according to Jared Wray, founder and CEO.

While some skeptics see these multi-party pacts as vendor posturing, some VARs see value in alliances because many customers do not want to get all of their IT hardware from one vendor.

"Cisco and HP … they all want 100% mindshare, but there's a reason they make vanilla and chocolate ice cream -- people have preferences," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of infrastructure solutions for Long View Systems, a Calgary-based systems integrator that works with all of these vendors.

"For a VAR, having a pre-validated and documented stack can create a degree of confidence that we won't face challenges in the field -- and we can't charge customers for fixing code issues. [These alliances] drive down risk and the time to delivery," MacDonald added.

At the very least, the alliances are recognition by vendors that there are other products out there that they must work with, he said. Therefore it makes sense for VMware, with EMC as a parent company, to cozy up to other storage powers including NetApp.

Discounting 'one throat to choke' message virtual data centers

For Cisco Systems Inc., which is locked in an increasingly heated battle in converged data center hardware with Hewlett-Packard Co., this pact, along with the Vblock initiative by Cisco, VMware and EMC can fight the "one throat to choke" argument that HP pushes. HP can provide the server, storage and networking components of the data center hardware stack whereas Cisco is new to servers and relies on EMC and now NetApp for the storage piece.

"This is secure multi-tenancy -- the first validated architecture between our three companies for virtual and cloud environments," said Julie Parrish, vice president of worldwide channels at NetApp.

The principals characterized this as an effort more narrowly focused on multi-tenancy whereas Vblock is more general.

"This [new effort] is very specific to build out secure multi-tenancy solutions. It's a discrete problem statement. Vblock is a more horizontal discussion for the data center," said Ralph Nimergood, vice president of data center/virtualization partner sales at Cisco Systems, which appears to be leading these multiple efforts in an attempt to entrench its hardware in data centers.

Adding NetApp's secure SAN talents

What NetApp brings to the table is its secure SAN expertise, said Tier 3's Wray.

Tier 3 already achieves server separation with VMware, network isolation with Cisco VLANs. It partitions its storage using NetApp's MultiStore, a feature that allows administrators to partition a SAN into smaller virtual SANs, Wray said.

"Without MultiStore, the SAN has always had to sit on a shared network. That's not the best approach, because even though [customers] couldn't access the data, they could see that the data was there," Wray said. Now with NetApp's virtual SAN capability, "we're pretty well built out for secure multi-tenancy."'s News Director Alex Barrett contributed to this story.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Barbara Darrow, Senior News Director at, or follow us on on twitter.

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