Cisco's expected Unified Computing System splash raises a data center ruckus

Cisco's expected Unified Computing System splash raises a data center ruckus

Summary: Cisco Systems on Monday is widely expected to launch network servers in a move that will put it in the virtualization business and potentially at odds with players like Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Cisco says it's merely doing what it has always done---investing in "market adjacencies during times that may cause other companies to blink.

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Cisco Systems on Monday is widely expected to launch network servers in a move that will put it in the virtualization business and potentially at odds with players like Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Cisco says it's merely doing what it has always done---investing in "market adjacencies during times that may cause other companies to blink."

How widely expected is this Cisco data center announcement Monday? Very expected. TheStreet.com cites analysts that have been briefed about Cisco's plans, which could revolve around switch-server hybrid boxes. Reuters confirmed that the March 16 announcement is related to a data center strategy to improve efficiency. According to Network World, Cisco will launch a "Unified Computing System" that includes backing from Microsoft, Intel, BMC, EMC and VMware:

Microsoft, Intel, BMC, EMC Smarts and VMware are expected to endorse Cisco's "Unified Computing" data center strategy at next Monday’s launch in New York. Sources say these companies will be on the roster of partners Cisco is lining up for its strategy, which is also expected to include the introduction of the company's 'California' blade servers. 

Last month, InternetNews' Andy Patrizio had a detailed story on Cisco's virtualization plans. 

Also see: Cisco's jump into servers: It's just business

Cisco's blog on its exploration of new markets

Patrizio wrote:

Cisco's efforts in virtualization focus primarily on the launch of its new blade system. According to a source familiar with the products, the blades will be based on Intel's Core i7 processors and come with up to 192GB of memory, well above the maximum capacity of 128GB in today's blades. Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) recently announced it would begin shipping Core i7 Xeon processors, codenamed Nehalem-EP, as part of its Xeon 5000 series.

The blades include a PCI-Express connection, allowing them to connect to Cisco's high-speed Unified Fabric architecture. These connections also give the blades very fast Ethernet access to both the network and storage devices and eliminate the need for a storage-area network (SAN). Instead, the blades would talk directly to the storage servers. 

And even Cisco's rivals are in on the act. I received an email from Brocade representatives telling me they'll have a response to Cisco's move on Monday so be ready. Given the players lined up with Cisco (notably EMC) it's not surprising that Brocade, which acquired Foundry Networks, would have a response:

Brocade is aware of the impending news from Cisco on its proposal of its next-generation, virtualized data center architecture. While we are withholding any comment of this proposal until we have had a chance to review Cisco’s announcements, please note that I will follow up with you. 

For its part, Cisco has acknowledged that it is going to target new markets. In a blog post in January the company said:

Yes, Cisco is entering new markets.  We view periods of economic uncertainty as the perfect time to challenge the status quo and evolve our business to deliver customer and shareholder value.  Cisco’s success has always been driven by investments in market adjacencies during times that may cause other companies to blink.

Yes, Cisco is innovating around an architectural approach we call “Unified Computing”.  Unified Computing is the advancement toward the next generation data center that links all resources together in a common architecture to reduce the barrier to entry for data center virtualization. In other words, the compute and storage platform is architecturally “unified” with the network and the virtualization platform. 

Why is everyone so wound up? It's all about the converged box scenario in the data center. As we moved to converged boxes---switches and storage meet servers and virtualization---the architecture of the data center is going to change. And you know what? The architecture of the data center has to change. A few ripple effects: 

  • Cisco will enter the server market with boxes that will play nice with its networking gear;
  • HP and IBM are likely to enter the networking market;
  • Virtualization will be embedded everywhere as a commodity software layer;
  • Ultimately, storage, servers, switches and even routers will all be lumped in a multi-purpose box in the data center that will save space. 

The competition should be fun---and if it improves data center performance all the better---but it's going to be interesting to watch the profit margin implications from this hardware battle.

Topics: CXO, Cisco, Data Centers, Hardware, Servers, Storage, Virtualization

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3 comments
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  • Welcome to the future!

    I must be in a parallel reality because I've been working in your data center of the future for a while.

    "HP and IBM are likely to enter the networking market"

    HP has been in the networking market since 1979. I have used HP ProCurve switches for about 10 years.

    "Virtualization will be embedded everywhere as a commodity software layer"

    You can buy VMware ESXi embedded in Dell or HP servers today. Microsoft has been shipping Hyper-V for a few months. Linux distros offer at least two options for baked-in virtualization.

    "Ultimately, storage, servers, switches and even routers will all be lumped in a multi-purpose box in the data center that will save space"

    Have you ever heard of a blade solution? They've been around since 2001 and have exploded in popularity in the last few years because they let you put storage, servers, switches and even routers in one multi-purpose box that saves space. Does that sound at all familiar?
    cubertsc@...
    • Good points

      I laughed when I read your response because it's all true. I guess Larry hasn't been paying attention to the data center space for awhile.

      petemitchell
  • This could be huge.

    Eliminating the need for a SAN by leveraging a unified chassis backplane for server and storage is a very cool idea. Thie big question: how will IT deparments that silo work functions deal with a single unit that is a file server, switch, router and SAN in one?
    RationalGuy