The Stack Archive

Exclusive interview with Nick Earle, Cisco

Fri 3 Oct 2014

nickearle[1]Part One of our exclusive interview with Nick Earle, SVP Cloud & Managed Services Sales at Cisco, introduces Intercloud, discusses Cisco’s new business strategy and takes an in depth look at cloud security issues.

Introducing Intercloud

Since the launch of Intercloud the interest has been explosive. But I have to give context to that as everybody would say that. Of course, it’s a business model which was unveiled 5 months, two weeks ago on the first day of our worldwide partner conference. What we’re doing is something fundamentally different to everybody else, which is why we are going to have a very significant raft of partner announcements.

You look at cloud, the story so far, and it’s primarily been driven by public cloud companies like AWS, Google, and Rackspace etc. Secondly, it’s been a vendor direct model, in other words those companies which have been building up their own data centres in a big rush to sell low-cost IaaS. We took a look at this model and said it will fail. If you look at what Cisco has done, we always disrupt – we disrupted voice when voice used to be called TDM. 5 years ago we weren’t in the data centre business and we said data centres will get disrupted by network computer storage coming together in what’s called UCS (Unified Computing System).

Cisco has a strategy of looking at the market and predicting a disruption, so what we’re doing with cloud – the next big disruption – is saying that the cloud model will fail. What we mean by fail is people will run out of money because there’s a race to zero where everyone is cutting their IaaS prices by 40%. In our view Amazon, Google and Microsoft are like three Rottweilers with their jaws on each other’s necks and every six months they drop prices by another 40%. What’s happening is that you will run out of cash flow and you will run out of capital. For example, we can see Rackspace creating strategic partnerships, and just yesterday Amazon reported widening losses ($900mn in the next quarter), and that they were going to raise a $2bn line of credit.

It’s very clear that it is very expensive to build up data centres and by-pass the channel and if what you’re selling goes down in price by 40%, how do you get the money in? You have a cash flow and a capital crunch.

We said the business model for cloud needs to be a collection of clouds all working together.

The other advantage of this model, in a post-Snowden world, is that you actually solve data sovereignty issues. Speaking as a European, it is absolutely clear that German data is not even going to go to Austria, never mind to Ireland, and certainly not to the US.

We believe data sovereignty requirements will proliferate, so basically we are going to connect the clouds together using our cloud eco-system of 62,000 resellers, and do the same. We’re doing the same for cloud that we did for data 25 years ago. 25 years ago, when networks first came out it wasn’t the internet, they were all proprietary networks. These networks didn’t talk to each other, so you had separate networks like DOM, the Defence Agency, University networks, CERN. Networks didn’t talk to each other, and Cisco looked at this structure and decided we have to be able to move data seamlessly between networks. There were technologies out there, like earlier browsers, but you couldn’t actually move data between networks. Cisco then led the move to create protocols that would allow seamless movement of data, which is something we take for granted now.

The word internet was then born it was ‘inter’ or between networks. Now if you look at these clouds, not only do you have the financial issues, but you also have the problem that you cannot move data between them. Once your workload is on Amazon, your data is staying with Amazon because it’s a proprietary API. Workloads are going into clouds but they’re staying put.

Secondly, if we raise it up one level to the hypervisor level, VMware has an 80% share of their software in the private cloud environment, but if you look at their VHCS environment, it’s a very low single digit share of the clouds. It’s not hypervisor independent; you can’t go from VMware to OpenStack. You can’t go any to any, any enterprise implementation to any cloud.

Cisco then thought what if it’s not so much of a technology or a product, what if there was a business model which connected all the clouds together seamlessly, and what if you could move workloads and data between them in the same way as you can today on the internet.

We’re trying to recreate the internet which is a really big play, a huge play, and my role is to lead that charge globally for the company.


In the late 90s, I remember when I used to go to Germany as global chief marketing officer at HP, and the Germans actually hated the word internet. Germans in general are very technical with every product so cloud for them means loss of control.

We’ve seen recent examples of this with the iCloud celebrity hacks and Target losing 43 million credit cards and email addresses. In this case, it wasn’t just the CIO who lost their job, it was the CEO too.

If you’re at CXO level in a company you have to pass an audit around compliance and security. If you don’t know where your data is going, you cannot guarantee security, and you fail the audit. What we’re doing is, going right down to key enabling technologies to solve these security concerns.

If we look back to the 90s, although there were protocols to connect data together you needed a single eye of the needle, a window, in order to get to any data – this became the web browser. For example, when Netscape first launched it was truly revolutionary because what it allowed you to do was go to one place and find data anywhere, even if it was stored with different vendors on different formats in different databases. What we’ve done really is to create a Netscape for cloud and it’s called Intercloud fabric.

Intercloud fabric is software that runs on the server in the enterprise, so to use a baseball analogy, there’s a pitcher and a catcher. There’s an enterprise edition and a service provider edition; two Lego bricks, a sender and a receiver. It allows you to move any workload from any hypervisor, the agnostic component, to any cloud that has the Intercloud fabric service provider edition.

When people become Intercloud partners, it isn’t just a marketing announcement; one of the things it means is that they’re implementing Intercloud fabric at their end. Intercloud fabric not only guarantees the connection, but it does security down at the VM (virtual machine) level.

It is basically a software switch. We had physical switches that consisted of a chassis and lots of line cards. You could run your applications on the different line cards, ASR (Aggregation Services Routers), and because it was contained within a box you were in control of security because it was in your private network. Intercloud fabric is essentially that product in software. Instead of line cards being inside your network, the line cards are software modules that sit inside people’s cloud networks. We’ve taken the same security control that you have in your private cloud and applied it to any set workload.

We’re doing security at the VM level with a single pane of glass for management. If, for example, I’m a CEO and an employee wants to use a certain cloud site, they can use it so long as they go through Intercloud fabric. The employee doesn’t mind because they want to connect to the cloud site. As they use the Intercloud fabric, I’ve got the same security as I had in my private cloud, and Cisco is the only one who can do that.

Intercloud fabric is like a toll bridge and you can drive both ways. If I’m now the CIO and now the same employee starts to scale on their public site, their spending $100,000 a month on their public service, I could actually do a rules-based change and move the employee’s workload back to my private cloud if I’ve got the application.

If the employee starts off using AWS Redshift, and I want it now to be in my private cloud, because of the cost, or security concerns, I can move any to any, but I can also bring the data back. As Gartner suggests, workload portability is one of the key things for cloud.

Check back with us next week for the second part of this interview with Nick Earle.


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