Arguably the biggest buzz word so far in 2009 isn't cloud computing, but instead the term "unified". As some of you may have seen earlier this week Cisco announced a new server centric strategy which is underpinned by the use of a "unified computing" methodology. Cisco's new computing mantra is being applied to the broader management of data center resources (compute, storage, and network elements) through a singular virtualized point of interaction. In a sense they are attempting the unification of the the entire infrastructure stack in what some are calling a unified infrastructure fabric.
There have been some interesting points of view on this topic recently in particular was Lydia Leong at Gartner's insight in which she said "He who controls the entire enchilada — the management platform — is king of the data center. There will be personnel who are empire-builders, seeking to use platform control to assert dominance over more turf." In a nut shell this is the opportunity Cisco is attempting to go after.
Backing this up are the remarks Padmasree Warrior made in her blog post announcing this broad new vision for the data center, in it she said "IT architectures are changing – becoming increasingly distributed, utilizing more open standards and striving for automation. IT has traditionally been very good at automating everything but IT!"
Cisco's move into server hardware makes a lot sense for the traditionally "networking" focused company. A company that derives most of it's revenue from providing static "boxes" that sit in your data center doing one thing and one thing only. But the trend in IT recently has been the move away from boxed appliances to that of virtualizing everything. Whether networking gear or storage, everything is becoming a virtual machine (VM). The requirement to buy expensive "static" networking gear is quickly becoming a relic of the past. The infrastructure of the future will utilize a series of self assembling virtual applications components that are forever adapting and changing to "current" conditions.
What VM's provide are a kind of lego building block that can be easily managed and adjusted with little or no effort. What is acting as an application server today may be a network switch or load balancer tomorrow. What's been missing from this vision is a unified interface to accomplish all this. This is the new reality facing niche hardware vendors in the very near future.
What virtualization & cloud computing has done to the IT industry is open its eyes to the potential for the unification of application & infrastructure stacks. These two traditionally separate components are now starting to morph into each other. In the near term it may start to become very difficult to see where your application ends your infrastructure begins. Service such as Amazon EC2 are just the tip of the iceberg, a place where you can test the waters. The true opportunity will be in the wider adoption of a unified IT stack, one that encompasses all aspects of IT, a kind of technological universalism.