Arik Hesseldahl

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Meet Lew Tucker, Cisco's Mr. Cloud

Cisco Systems is serious about cloud computing. If today’s news about its strategic alliance with BMC Software doesn’t make that clear, talking with Lew Tucker, Cisco’s CTO for Cloud Computing certainly will.

Tucker is a 13-year veteran of Sun Microsystems whose last job was as Sun’s CTO of cloud computing. He was also VP of the AppExchange at Salesforce.com. He’s also known for “Lew’s Law,” which he describes as more of an informal observation about how far the cost of computing can realistically fall.

I caught up with him last week in New York City to talk about what Cisco, long the powerhouse of networking, plans to do in the cloud.

NewEnterprise: First off, what is Lew’s Law?

Lew Tucker: It’s just an observation, not a real law, that the price of computing will never be free, because it requires energy to compute. Computing is really about changing the state of physical bits, and that requires energy. It’s great that we’re driving the costs down. Moore’s Law is hammering the costs. But there is a lower limit. Right now the dominant cost is around managing software, operations and everything else. So we can take a lot of those costs out through automation.

NewEnterprise: When I think of Cisco I think of industrial-strength routers and switches. How do you get from there to cloud computing?

LT: Eight months ago I thought the same thing. I was with Sun for many years and then left to go to Salesforce.com to do software as a service. I became very enamored of the Salesforce model. I came back to Sun to build the Sun Cloud, which was to be a direct competitor to Amazon Web Services. I was an Amazon user myself and I loved how you could so easily spin up as many servers as you wanted without having to buy them, configure them and so on. Building a cloud is another thing entirely. When Cisco called me, I said to them, “You’re about routers and switches and I’m all about complex distributed computing systems.” And Cisco said they were really about networking and making distributed systems. I started digging into it and realized there was a really unique position at Cisco if you think of cloud computing as a fully automated system with different elements. Some of those are networking elements, and some of those are integrated boxes with computing and storage and networking all in one. Some are networking services.

NewEnterprise: When you think about how cloud computing works, you really can’t do anything without fast connections between one system or another, which is something that Cisco knows very well.

LT: The network has always been a shared piece of infrastructure. There are a lot of different applications running on different servers that are trying to reach either each other or their endpoints. So there’s an awful lot that’s going into the network to make that happen in a fair and efficient way.

NewEnterprise: So what hardware is Cisco building here?

LT: We build pre-integrated compute, storage and networking that we’re calling our Unified Computing Systems. You can buy a rack of these systems, and they’re driven by a set of APIs [application programming interfaces]. We’re not alone in that. Hewlett-Packard does something similar. Then the customers add in their own preferred storage environment, like EMC or NetApp, or they can build their own.

NewEnterprise: What kind of use cases are you seeing in companies? What are your customers asking for right now?

LT: Right now what they are asking about is collaboration services, the integration of video and voice and calendaring and messaging. We’ve seen consumer services like Facebook change what people expect at the office. We have a collaboration product called Quad that looks just like Facebook. WebEx is a Cisco service. We’re working on offering that as both a hosted form and one that runs inside the customer’s own environment.

NewEnterprise: So there are a lot of cloud providers out there already–Amazon, Google and Microsoft, which has its Azure platform. They’ve already deployed their services and have relationships with vendors. How do you see the market shaping up, and what is Cisco’s place in it?

LT: I think there’s going to be two or three large cloud providers, but then there will be many smaller ones who specialize in delivering specialized services. Take health care. In that industry, groups of companies are going to get together and offer a HIPAA-compliant cloud. You’ll also see something similar happen around financial services. Those are two industries that have very specific needs. The cloud will be dominated by a few large providers for sure, but there will also be many specialty cloud providers.

NewEnterprise: You’ve been on the job about six months. What have you learned so far?

LT: I’ve learned that there’s an amazing amount of technology within Cisco. It has the largest concentration of network engineers in the world. Part of my job is to go and align our products and roadmaps with this future world that we’re moving into and to uncover a lot of the new approaches to how we solve different networking problems. I’m an engineer, and I like nothing better than being in a room with a bunch of other engineers with a whiteboard as they all battle it out. I’ve also learned that building cloud infrastructure is a lot harder than everyone thought.


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