Irwin Lazar
Irwin Lazar is the Vice President and Service Director at Nemertes Research, where he manages research operations, develops and manages...
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Irwin Lazar | November 19, 2010 |


Microsoft and Cisco Cross the Virtualization Chasm

Microsoft and Cisco Cross the Virtualization Chasm IT leaders should carefully evaluate these latest virtualization announcements while making sure they have the proper internal structure to coordinate.

IT leaders should carefully evaluate these latest virtualization announcements while making sure they have the proper internal structure to coordinate.

As you have probably heard by now (especially if you happened to glance at the other posts on NoJitter), Microsoft and Cisco made some news this week on the unified communications and collaboration front. While other NoJitter posters have done a tremendous job covering the highlights and impacts, I wanted to drill down a bit into an area we’ve spent a lot of time covering as of late, the integration of virtualization and UC.

As I noted in past blog posts, we continue to see huge adoption of virtualization, within enterprise organizations. Ninety-seven percent of companies are adopting server virtualization, while over 50% of companies are adopting desktop virtualization. Virtualization presents tremendous opportunities and challenges for UC. If telecom managers can migrate their IP-PBX servers to general-purpose hypervisors they can realize the same benefits as other virtualized applications: lower infrastructure costs, greater flexibility, better support for disaster recovery, and simplified support. That's why Cisco's announcement of support for running Unified Call Manager on hypervisors from Citrix, VMWare and Microsoft, as well as Microsoft's certification of full feature support for Lync running on both Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware are critically important. Companies that tell us that they have fully virtualized their applications have in reality only virtualized about 74% of total applications. Server and application managers say that they can't virtualize that remaining quarter because the applications won't run on hypervisors, thus "fully virtualized" means "we've virtualized everything we can, but not everything we have." With these announcements from Cisco and Microsoft (as well as previous announcements from vendors such as Avaya, Mitel and Siemens), companies can virtualize even more of their application infrastructures.

The other side of the coin is desktop virtualization. As I've noted in the past, we've heard from numerous IT leaders that desktop virtualization and desktop UC applications for voice and video area mutually exclusive. And we've even talked to a few UC managers who had to scrap plans for software-based voice and video because they hadn't been aware of thin-client rollouts, and therefore hadn't architected their UC client strategy to work with desktop virtualization. The challenge comes from the need to encapsulate voice and video at the end-point rather than carry it back to the data center in its raw form. While there are a few solutions on the market from vendors such as Citrix and Mitel, they aren't widely deployed.

One of Cisco's big announcements this week was their Virtualization Experience Infrastructure (VXI) including a thin-client device that ships in two varieties--a backpack for 8900 and 9900 phones, and a stand-alone device. Each can replace the desktop PC by supporting desktop virtualization software from partners including Citrix and VMware along with connections for keyboard, mouse, and monitor. The backpack, used with a Cisco phone, delivers voice and video via a phone’s built in speaker, camera, and screen while the stand-alone VXC 2200 provides phone and video ports for third party phones and video devices.

However Cisco didn't introduce any products or partnerships to solve the problem of running voice/video as a soft-client on a thin-client desktop. Cisco's release notes for UPC 7 specifically state that it isn’t supported on a thin-client, while there’s no mention of thin-client support in release notes for UPC 8. However Cisco and Citrix did announce a partnership around Citrix's HDX back in September so it's likely that we'll see Cisco support integrated voice/video in Unified Personal Communicator and WebEx Connect via HDX before long.

Microsoft too didn't make any specific announcements with respect to running the Lync desktop client on a thin-client, but through its partnership with Citrix, Microsoft supports integration of Lync with Citrix's XenDesktop.

Beyond the technologies, the biggest challenge is still getting those responsible for server and desktop infrastructure to integrate plans with those responsible for UC. Convergence of server, desktop, and UC planning is a necessary prerequisite for evaluating the potential benefits/challenges for convergence of UC and virtualization. IT leaders should carefully evaluate these latest virtualization announcements while making sure they have the proper internal structure to coordinate short term and long term plans for both virtualization and UC.


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