When the NetScaler team started working with Cisco back in October, 2012 we were taken aback by the possibilities we had walked into. Of the paths we could take, integrating the NetScaler with the Nexus 7000 with RISE stood out as a technology that not only had a short term immediate value in simplification but a longer term value in helping customers manage the transition towards software oriented datacenters. More importantly, RISE stood out as an excellent example of why vendor-to-vendor integrations should be held to a higher standard than a DevOps integration alone.

RISE (http://www.cisco.com/go/rise) enables the NetScaler to be connected to the Nexus 7000 with a simple piece of Ethernet yet appear as if it were a first-class citizen sitting in the Nexus 7000 chassis. In effect, the NetScaler becomes a remote blade. Because of this technology, first-time configuration takes a fraction of the time with a significant reduction in possible mistakes. Ongoing management is also simplified as the Nexus 7000 and NetScaler communicate configuration updates to one anther based on application changes.

But why? Why would someone want such a tight coupling of their switch with an ADC?

To appreciate why, we need to step back and look at what’s happening across the datacenter. As datacenters increasingly move to a cloud-oriented model, the rate of change within the datacenter goes up. This is no surprise — we’ve made the infrastructure increasingly malleable and empowered ourselves to drive change as frequently as an agile business requires. Rapid change, however, does not come for free. One does not simply change a single component in the datacenter — the remaining adjacencies must change with it. At some point, this rate of change drives automation.

There are two sides to automation: vendor driven and DevOps. Without getting into a fruitless argument over What Is DevOps, let’s say that it is the outcome of having an automation culture based around a scriptable infrastructure. Bottom line, DevOps is what the business drives for its own needs. Vendor driven automation on the other hand are the integrations done that solve something simply not doable with scripts and APIs.

RISE is an example of vendor-driven automation where we get the benefits of DevOps with the simplicity of plug’n’play. Because RISE enables change to happen rapidly, the infrastructure is able to quickly adjust to application changes without any lag time. For administrators this means attaining business agility without the need to becoming a performance expert for scripting.

Therein lies why I find RISE so interesting and why it highlights the two sides of automation: adapting to the rate of network configuration change in the datacenter is not practical with scripts and APIs alone. Between vendors, it will be these kinds of integrations that stand out moreso than a few python scripts packaged together. Integrations like RISE demonstrate what is really possible with a close relationship and the right kinds of automation. Vendor driven automation is not necessarily better than DevOps — they each solve distinct problems. However, RISE proves once again that we should hold vendor integrations to a higher standard than a DevOps integration alone.