Why BMC is backing Cisco's datacentre strategy

The launch of Cisco's systems strategy means its management partner, BMC, is now spreading the word about what it describes as a fundamental redesign of computing

Executives from BMC Software had good reason to look cheerful when Cisco set out its strategy on Monday to change the face of datacentres.

Texan software provider BMC has just become the exclusive partner for systems-management tools in the Unified Computing System, Cisco's mission to transform the way large-scale IT environments are created and operate.

Cisco's vision is for a cohesive, end-to-end architecture for datacentres, built around its products and those of its chosen technology partners. Networking specialist Cisco has even launched its first server, a blade, as part of the effort. Its Unified Computing initiative covers computing, virtualisation, networking, storage access and management software — which is where BMC comes in.

ZDNet UK talked to Jim Grant, BMC's senior vice president for strategy, to find out what the agreement with Cisco would mean for his company and how he thinks it could benefit companies with their IT strategies.

Q: Some people are suggesting there is nothing new in Cisco's announcement — would you agree?
A: There has been criticism from HP. It said something like: "What Cisco wants to deliver is something we are delivering now". My first thought when I heard that was they fundamentally misunderstand what is being done here.

But isn't HP just saying that it is doing a lot of work on improving the management of computers?
They don't understand that this is not just about taking a computer and a network and putting it all in a box. [What Cisco announced] was a fundamental redesign of how we do computing. There are so many things in the Cisco announcement.

First, there are so many partners involved in this — and companies that are involved in the open-systems arena, BMC being one, Red Hat, Novell, Intel, SAP, Oracle and so on. And so many people have endorsed this. You also have an endorsement of what an open-systems approach is. You also have the theme of organisations saying they don't want to be constantly reconfiguring their infrastructure.

So this thing attacks the problem from both sides. It is a standards-based, blade-based, Intel-based architecture for computing. It also fundamentally takes all the labours and complexity out of the back-end of a system.

So configuring and reconfiguring, or running a new virtual language, are all managed while the complexity remains behind the scenes. These processes are essentially managed intelligently by the box itself and by the management software from BMC.

This initiative involves VMware as well?
This machine, slash network, slash computer, was designed with virtualisation in mind and with the idea that you would be able to rapidly provision new computer images. That is, commission them, provision them, run them, all in very rapid order without taking great risk.

HP would say it is all about the management software and that it is always improving that software, and in fact introduced many improvements recently.
True, but you can't change the physical architecture that HP delivers, which is a separate computer and a separate network that have to be plugged together as separate components. What Cisco says is simply the computer is the easiest part of this — it is a commodity. The harder part is how it interfaces to the network.

With a standard HP, IBM or Dell blade farm, what you find behind the computers is a mass of wiring. Now, walk behind a Cisco 'California' [code name for Cisco's new system], what you have is one wire in, one wire out. Storage, network — as many versions of those as you want — all configured in an object manager onboard. Now that is not something HP has.

It is really compelling when you see that what Cisco has done is realise that all this hardware can be made virtual and by doing so we take the labour and the risk out.

What is BMC's part in all this?
The way this breaks down is that Cisco has designed a management architecture for the device that manages from the computer down into the hardware, the network interface, the storage interface and so on.

BMC manages everything above that, such as the operating system, the application images and the configuration management.

So the Cisco UCSM [Unified Computing System Manager] delivers to the BMC software a hardware profile that describes...

...how much computing power it has, what its network configuration is, and so on, and delivers that configuration to our software, which maintains it in a database./>

Then we use those profiles to configure a variety of applications from the application images. Those profiles can be designed to have the right capacity, connectivity and storage to deliver the right performance for the application.

And you can work through that system?
We have developed our software to be integrated with [Cisco's] object manager and we have been using the UCS to do it. It is quite an impressive invention. The great thing is that it relies on a blade architecture, so it supports Linux and Windows and therefore thousands of applications.

It is also very manageable, unlike so many hardware inventions.

How long have you been working with Cisco?
We have been collaborating since early summer of last year. One of the designers of the architecture approached us and started taking us through it and we were quickly convinced.

Is Cisco delivering the blade now?
I think the computer actually delivers next month, April.

So you think the efficiency claims Cisco is making are valid?
It really does take a tremendous amount of work out of the whole thing. One of the brilliant things Cisco did was not to try and be everything to everybody. It found partners. It didn't try and design its own virtualisation or management software, unlike IBM and HP.

The way the market is going, you will have two $100m (£70m) companies, IBM and HP, battling it out, and then Cisco and the rest of us saying open systems are the better way. From our point of view we are in an enviable position. We are providing the only management software at the outset, but it is not exclusive.

What is the deal between Cisco and BMC?
Cisco is reselling our software, which will remain BMC branded. We are committed to doing joint sales to begin with and will be focused on some of the largest accounts in the world.

What about the timing of the announcement, as it is the middle of a recession?
This is happening at a time of highly dynamic virtual environments. HP has called it a time of the adaptive infrastructure. What Cisco said was, with a standard blade architecture, with the right partners, you can adapt.

Cisco said the bottlenecks that inhibit your computer from working properly are in the memory and the network and storage interfaces. So they have put the design around those points in the architecture to give them much higher bandwidth and much better performance.

For example, memory is a bottleneck on most computers. Cisco took a new IC and tripled the memory availability and that has a dramatic effect on performance. What Cisco has to offer will mean a step change in the labour required to run a datacentre.

One of the advantages HP and IBM have is they can both call on huge networks of partners. How can Cisco compete with that?
It is not a problem. Cisco has one of the largest partner networks in the world.

But they are partners in a different way?
Sure, but the important thing to remember is that it is a business relationship and Cisco has the experience in datacentres. It's not like they are going to be selling computers off the shelf.

Those partners will look at this as an opportunity because it will take a lot of their labour out. The labour required to manage all those wires is not value-added labour.


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