Cisco has been on a software acquisition spree this past year, acquiring Jabber, PostPath, and now Tidal Software, among others. But as Cisco goes after the data center with its new Unified Computing push, one open-source company should be on Cisco's radar screen: Reductive Labs, creators of the Puppet project, a framework for automating system administration.
Tidal is a performance-monitoring solution for data centers. It's a nice start, and a definite upgrade over Cisco's baseline Unified Computing management tools. But as Forrester senior analyst Glenn O'Donnell suggests, "Cisco is the new kid in town in the data center and will need a solid software strategy to go against HP and IBM."
In other words, Cisco needs a more holistic data-center management strategy, and Puppet could play a key role. Puppet gives Cisco the ability to semantically encode "why" instead of just "what" or "how" into data center solutions, making data center deployments more manageable over time:
I was only seeing the static state of the working system. What if you want to change things? If you have working images, you have to reconstruct "What" by discovery, good luck with "Why." If you are lucky, it was you that set up the systems and it wasn't over six months ago. The "What" and "Why" were apparent to someone, potentially you, when the systems were first set up, but now you just have this bucket of bootable bits that ostensibly does something. If it isn't working, or there is a need to change something significant, the choice is poking around the bucket of bits until the new "What" is in place or starting over with a new "Why" that is lost as soon as the new image is finished.
If Puppet is building your services, "What" and "Why" can be recorded, clarified, recovered, and manipulated. Version control becomes straight forward, manageable, and transparent. Services can have clear definitions and relationships. So obvious...can't believe it took me this long to "get it"...
In other words, describing services in Puppet provides both the ability to configure machines but also the ability to ensure they are configured properly over time. An enterprise data center isn't static. Understanding and configuring its dynamics is what makes Puppet so interesting, and what should make it intriguing to Cisco.
Even virtualization doesn't make this any easier. If anything, it compounds the problem of management. Puppet, however, can facilitate management of virtual servers.
Cisco is entering an established market with strong incumbents like IBM and HP. To win, it needs to innovate in its data center strategy. Puppet, used by Stanford, Google, Sony, and other leading-edge companies, could offer it a way to disrupt the incumbents with an innovative approach to IT management: a way to manage data-center resources over time, and not merely at deployment.
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