HP or Cisco: Which data center approach is more sustainable?

I'm hunkered down in San Francisco this week, where I am attending the annual conference that Cisco holds for the thousands of its channel partners (resellers, network integrators, VARs, service providers, etc.) that it counts on to customize, deploy and support its technology.

I'm hunkered down in San Francisco this week, where I am attending the annual conference that Cisco holds for the thousands of its channel partners (resellers, network integrators, VARs, service providers, etc.) that it counts on to customize, deploy and support its technology.

There is plenty of news for the tech-geek, but one of the more interesting undercurrents here is the quest by Cisco to become more relevant in the data center -- a move that pits its squarely in the competitive sites of technology giant Hewlett-Packard.

Cisco is playing up the fact (of course) that the network is increasingly critical for accelerating virtualization performance. The network is the glue, if you will, for the data center consolidation imperative. Cisco has its own technology for addressing this in the form of the Unified Computing System product line, which comes with all sorts of validated designs for server virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure. Of course, HP is clearly banking on the network, too, as a key element of its data center strategy, evidenced by its acquisition of 3Com.

Here's where they stop seeing eye-to-eye.

HP would love nothing short of complete data center domination: An all-HP-hardware, all-the-time data center approach, where it controls servers, storage and the network. Yes, folks, one throat to choke. The question is, do you really want it?

To me, the more intriguing play as companies really begin exploring their cloud infrastructure options might be the fruits of the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) Coalition, which Cisco manages in partnership with EMC and VMware. The idea behind the coalition is to create what is essentially a preconfigured data center building block that features the best of all three vendors.

You probably have heard of the initiative, which was announced late last year. The reason it is getting more buzz now is because the first of these preconfigured solutions, which are called "Vblocks," is due as "single order" unit by June 2010. The Vblock isn't simply a bundle, it is a data center building block that has been co-designed for optimal performance, from a management and energy consumption standpoint. The design of the infrastructure is handled by Acadia, which also includes Intel, which is contributing the server technology for the building blocks. Because Cisco never misses a chance to tout its green initiatives, it has been talking up EnergyWise here this week, its technology for using core infrastructure to manage the power consumption of devices all across the network.

The idea of data center building blocks, containers and pods has been gaining more ground in the past two years, but it should be interesting to see how the VCE technology fares -- mainly because it represents a multi-vendor approach. Disaster recovery player SunGard recently became a public customer for Vblock, and Cisco revealed this week that 480 customers have begun using its UCS technology (outside of the VCE architecture).

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