The Google-Cisco partnership is a reminder that cloud-native still has limits in hardware

Google and Cisco announced a partnership on Wednesday that promises to deliver on hybrid cloud comput
ARCHITECHT
The Google-Cisco partnership is a reminder that cloud-native still has limits in hardware
By ARCHITECHT • Issue #155 • View online
Google and Cisco announced a partnership on Wednesday that promises to deliver on hybrid cloud computing. Like most (or all?) of Google’s partnerships in this space, the Cisco deal focuses on Kubernetes as the tie that binds the public and private cloud platforms. This one also features the Istio service mesh as a key component, with Google claiming that it will help enterprise users better manage and secure their microservices.
In one sense, a deal like this promises to deliver on exactly the type of portability and hybrid capabilities that the container community loves to tout. Using the same tools and container images across platforms makes it theoretically easier to move applications from one to the other, and also to build applications where services might span environments. It also helps standardize the development and deployment experiences, which is a big deal if you want some sort of parity between environments and teams that can work across both (or that want to).
Oh, and partnering with enterprise hardware vendors like Cisco helps Google fend off those pesky startups (and Red Hat) telling customers they should do hybrid by running their Kubernetes software on-prem and in the cloud. That type of arrangement doesn’t leave a lot of room for Google Container Engine, which is the public cloud part of the Cisco deal, and also a big part of how Google plans to make its money off of Kubernetes.
However … the thing that strikes me about a deal like this just how un-cloud-like it is on the hardware side. Aside from the software they’ve built to manage their sprawling infrastructure (from which the idea for Kubernetes itself was hatched), one of the big things that large web companies and cloud providers are known for is running white-box hardware that they very well might have designed themselves. Not only are companies like Google not buying Cisco servers or networking gear (that I’m aware of), but some of their work around SDN and open source hardware has almost certainly had a negative effect on Cisco’s bottom line.
While it makes perfect sense from a business perspective to partner with a company that has existing enterprise relationships and can manage those complex sales cycles, it seems a bit counter-intuitive technologically. What would be really interesting is to see a cloud provider partner with a white-box maker and start selling their own data center hardware, designed with cloud-native and hybrid workloads in mind. Kind of like the big three already do with consumer devices.
I don’t expect to see that happen anytime soon, but it might not be an entirely crazy idea. Google, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services would all like to own as much of corporate IT budgets as they can, and would like to see the world embrace their particular views on how computing should be done. At some point, accomplishing those goals might mean cutting out the middle man and tackling hybrid from top to bottom.

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