What investing in Parallels means for Cisco desktop virtualization

Cisco isn't known for desktop virtualization, but its investment in Parallels could let the company dabble more in cloud-based systems management.

Cisco invested in Parallels last week, which could signal a new path for the networking vendor. What might this

mean for Cisco desktop virtualization or cloud services?

It's interesting to see Cisco take an interest in the smaller virtualization company. Parallels makes no mention of any specific products, and we don't know exactly what equity investment means, but the announcement indicates that Cisco believes in Parallels' overall offering. It mentions cloud services for SMB end users and adds, "By strengthening our collaboration with Cisco, Parallels is focused on accelerating its growth and offering an end-to-end solution for cloud service providers." Let's dig into that a bit.

Parallels already has an offering called Parallels Cloud Server, which encompasses Parallels Hypervisor and Parallels Containers. The hypervisor is used primarily for client hypervisors, and Containers is a unique virtualization method that segments a single Windows instance into isolated, manageable containers. That means one instance of Windows can be used for multiple services at the same time without stepping on each other.

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As part of Parallels Cloud Server, these two technologies are combined with Parallels Cloud Storage to allow for cloud-based system management. It's primarily aimed at hosting companies because Parallels has inroads with hosting firms that use Containers to deliver Windows Web servers to multiple clients.

Cisco got involved almost certainly because it wants to be on the back end of that offering; it could provide the servers, networking and WAN optimization. Plus, it shows that Cisco may want to tighten relations with a specific hypervisor.

For years there's been speculation about Cisco buying into the desktop virtualization market. Every 18 months or so there's a rumor that they'll buy Citrix, for example, and it goes nowhere but does cause us to look at what Cisco's offering would look like in that scenario. I want to do the same here by examining what Cisco already has.

What's WAN optimization got to do with it?

Cisco's WAN optimization tool, called WAAS, has been in the desktop virtualization news lately because of an announcement at Citrix Synergy in Barcelona last fall. Citrix announced a much tighter relationship with Cisco (prompting another rumor of an acquisition), and Cisco announced it will promote Citrix NetScaler as its WAN optimization solution of choice (among other things). That doesn't mean WAAS is going away; in fact, it might work well for a scaled-down, SMB cloud offering.

Networking, servers and storage

Grouping networking and servers together may seem odd, but the fact is that Cisco is using its networking relationships to sell servers, too. You'd be hard pressed to find a Cisco server shop that isn't running Cisco networking. That would be a fundamental part of a Parallels cloud offering. 

Cisco also has storage tools despite the fact that it doesn't actually offer any storage repositories. In addition to storage switches, the company offers storage optimization and management tools -- all of which Parallels could use in a cloud platform.

Communications and thin clients

Cisco is among the top companies in collaboration and communications with IP, video and soft phones to thin clients designed for call centers that have phone components built in. A suite built on an all-Cisco platform would include these, meaning you'd get the WAN optimization, data center hardware, voice capabilities and endpoint device from one vendor. 

This sort of turnkey package is the reason that announcements like Parallels' garner our attention. Anything that expands on its existing offering would be a step in the direction we've assumed Cisco was heading. If Cisco tightens relations with Parallels (or acquires them outright), it could deliver an end-to-end package with the distinct advantage of a single reference architecture that's adaptable to almost anyone. It makes sense to start that process at the SMB level, since any kinks wouldn't be as noticeable and would be easier to work out.

Of course, you'd also need a broker in between to get users from point A to point B. Perhaps Parallels is working on something like that as part of its Cloud Server offering, or maybe they would work together with a third-party broker such as LeoStream. Or -- and I'm just throwing it out there -- maybe Cisco would buy Citrix!

It will be interesting to see if this partnership has any effect on the relationship between Cisco and Citrix. In addition to the NetScaler announcement, it also means Cisco will be working more closely with Citrix XenServer and its cloud orchestration solution, CloudStack. Keep an eye on this as Cisco continues to dabble in the desktop virtualization and cloud services arena.

This was first published in January 2013

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