Cisco, VMware collaborate on desktop virtualisation

A partnership between Cisco and virtualisation company VMware has led to the development of a virtual network switch for VMware clusters

Cisco has introduced a virtual network switch for VMware clusters, a product of a new collaborative partnership between Cisco and virtualisation company VMware.

The new virtual datacentre switch, the Nexus 1000V, is a software implementation of Cisco's Nexus switch that is designed to run as part of a VMware cluster. The switch recreates the LAN and SAN as a virtual network, using new Cisco technology called Virtual Network Link (VN-Link). Both the Nexus 1000V and VN-Link were announced jointly by Cisco and VMware on Wednesday at the VMworld conference in Las Vegas.

The network is 'aware' of virtualisation and can apply policies and management to make virtual machines work better, the companies said. Among other things, it will support moves using VMware's VMotion migration technology, so virtual servers can be moved easily within the datacentre.

The product should remove some of the network problems introduced when virtualising datacentres using VMware's ESX, according to San Diego-based enterprise network designer Colin McNamara.

"Once we moved from a real switch port to a dumb bridge inside ESX, lots of finger-pointing resulted. Now, with a Nexus 1000V sitting virtually inside the ESX clusters, the boundary between network and systems teams has been re-established," McNamara said.

The announcement should help VMware compete with rivals, but may signal bigger things in the datacentre for Cisco, according to analysts.

On VMware's side, the announcement will speed up processes in VMware-based datacentres that need a lot of communications, such as virtual desktop integration (VDI). However, this won't be enough for VMware catch up with market leader Citrix, said analyst Clive Longbottom of QuoCirca.

"VMware is way behind were Citrix is," he said. "They are facing a well-known technology with the backing of the Microsoft brand, and Citrix has kept on innovating. This will be an option for those who have VMware wall-to-wall — it makes sense for those people to have one throat to choke, but other people will stick with Citrix."

On Cisco's side, there are hints that this will not be the end of its datacentre ambitions. Before the announcement, a bulletin from UBS was widely circulated, quoting "industry checks" as saying the company would enter the blade server market, either by acquiring a blade vendor, or making its own.

The Nexus 1000V switch won't be available until early 2009, but Cisco and VMware have published a white paper on network virtualisation, and are offering joint consulting services in virtualising servers, networks and storage.