Cisco's Cloud Bet: What's in It for SPs?

Service providers struggling to implement a cloud strategy can look to a buddy for help. Cisco wants to be that buddy. Cisco this week introduced Intercloud, a strategy to enter partnerships with service providers to go to market together with cloud services for the enterprise. Cisco plans to invest $1 billion over the next two years on infrastructure to implement Intercloud. (See Can Cisco Help SPs Offer Cloud-based Apps?)

Together, Cisco and its partners will offer application services such as virtual desktop, firewall, remote management, and more.

"When you look at the service provider world, it's pretty clear that as the market matures it's impossible to build everything in-house," Fabio Gori, Cisco director of cloud marketing, told Light Reading.

The business opportunity for service providers is twofold: To resell Intercloud to the SP’s own customers at a markup, and also to build addition cloud offerings using Intercloud as a platform, Cisco says.

Cisco and Service Providers, Buddies
(Source: Julie Brown)
(Source: Julie Brown)

But partnering with Cisco could present problems for service providers looking to differentiate from their competitors, Heavy Reading analyst Rosalyn Roseboro said. “Operators keep saying they’re concerned about differentiating, but if they’re going to leverage a platform being offered to everyone, that doesn’t solve the differentiation issue,” she said. “Using the same stuff as everyone else is using doesn’t get them there.”

Service providers might well succeed as cloud brokers, helping customers figure out the best cloud services for their workload, Roseboro said. In some cases, it might make sense for enterprise customers to run Amazon Web Services. In others, enterprises might be well served on Intercloud, some other platform, or the service provider’s own cloud. Service providers might partner with Cisco for small and mid-sized enterprise businesses, but handle the big customers on the SP’s own network, Roseboro said.

Internet of everything
Cisco sees Intercloud as an opportunity for service providers to take advantage of the Internet of Everything, with exploding demand by enterprises for services and bandwidth. "Some of these applications have to deal with billions of things and trillions of events," Gori said. "Any network, even the biggest in the world, will be destroyed by all this traffic coming in to even the biggest data centers." Cisco wants to help service providers beef up their networks and data centers to meet the onslaught.

Intercloud offerings from service providers will prominently feature the Cisco brand, Cisco says. The cloud fabric will be built on the Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). (See Cisco's ACI Gets Physical With SDN.)

Intercloud will use Cisco's own data centers, along with its partners', to blanket the world. "We have no intention of building data centers all the way across the globe, and even if we wanted to, we would simply be an American company doing business with a foreign country," Gori said. "By working with local players we will have a more compelling proposition in the marketplace."

For a service provider like the Australian Telstra, one of Cisco's Intercloud partners, Cisco installs the entire stack, including ACI, open stack libraries, hardware, software, and interoperating with the service provider's existing business system. Cisco also operates the cloud infrastructure in that kind of partnership, Gori said.

Other partners will use the existing Intercloud infrastructure and connect over high-level APIs to offer applications to customers.

Cisco will have more details on Intercloud at his Cisco Live event in San Francisco, May 18-22.

Early reports about Intercloud positioned it as competitive with Amazon Web Services. But Cisco doesn't see it that way. Amazon provides bare metal virtual servers, so to speak, with an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering. Cisco is mainly offering application software as service (SaaS), a higher level than Amazon’s. Although Intercloud will also offer PaaS and IaaS, but those are not central to Intercloud, Gori said.

"Amazon has an infrastructure centric proposition, we have an application centric proposition,” Gori said. “We are not competing with Amazon. We are competing with other kinds of clouds. We are more like VMware, or HP Cloud.”

Among the services available from Intercloud are collaboration, security, network infrastructure management, virtual desktop, cloud DVR (see Cisco Cloud DVR Emerges), virtualized mobile Internet, virtual PCs, firewall and provider edge services, remote management, and energy management.

Of course Intercloud runs on teh Intarwebz.

— Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile Follow me on Facebook Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

Want to learn more about SDN and the transport network? Check out the agenda for Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker lineup, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

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DHagar 3/25/2014 | 6:02:48 PM
Cisco's Cloud Bet: What's in it for SPs? Mitch, agreed.   My main point was that if all SPs are access points to Cisco, as you point out, there is no differentiation among the solution providers.  Just being another provider of the same service is not distinctive.  If, however, the SPs maintain their problem-solving role, with selection of the best fit for the customer (i.e., which tools, networks, and/or solutions, are best suited to the actual client needs), they can be viewed as the problem solver for the customer - not solely the agent for Cisco (for which there are many).

Re:  Amazon distinction - that was not tied to my assessment of distinctive SP services - that was directed to the question as to whether all customers will see the same distinctions that Cisco sees.

Note:  Like the picture!

Mitch Wagner 3/25/2014 | 5:44:09 PM
Re: Cisco's Cloud Bet: What's in it for SPs? DHagar - "The question becomes if the customer will differentiate their services as being that different than Amazon, etc."

I don't think that will be so much of a problem. I think Cisco is assessing the market accurately  when it says Amazon's platform offering won't compete directly with Cisco's application offering.

The real problem will be for Cisco's partners to come differentiate from Cisco's other partners, and Cisco itself.
DHagar 3/25/2014 | 5:24:16 PM
Cisco's Cloud Bet: What's in it for SPs? Mitch, this offers expansion opportunities for Cisco, and it appears they are betting big on making the utility of cloud connectivity a driving proposition for their networking and solutions.  The question becomes if the customer will differentiate their services as being that different than Amazon, etc.

Also, the points you raise in your blog about the challenge for SPs in becoming a channel to Cisco's cloud and the ability to provide distinctive technology and service solutions, is key.  I think SPs need to keep a focus on "their solutions" - which allows for the best fit across the various options needed and focus on their ability to make it fit for the customer - ie, solve the customer's problems.
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