A March even will spotlight Cisco's entry into the virtualization market and serve notice to HP.
Cisco Systems will introduce "Project California," a blade system specially tuned for
virtualized environments, at an event in San Francisco on March 16,
InternetNews.com has learned.
The news comes as talk surfaces around Cisco's other strategies to ramp up its
virtualization portfolio: namely, through
an acquisition of VMware or its parent, EMC. So far, those talks never moved beyond
an initial phase, although industry observers and Wall Street continue to watch for signs
of renewed discussions among the three.
For the time being, however, 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 recently announced it
would begin shipping Core i7 Xeon processors, codenamed Nehalem-EP, as part of its Xeon
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
The blade servers are believed to come with Cisco's Nexus 5000 switches embedded
in the chassis, which support the Unified Fabric and is built to be virtualization-ready.
The servers will also feature tight integration with and support for VMware software.
This would put computing and networking power all in a single box. "It's more of
making the computer part of the network, thus Unified Computing," said the source,
turning Sun Microsystems's infamous "The network is the computer" slogan on its ear.
The term "Unified Computing" was first floated by Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior in a
post, where she described it as "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," she added.
A spokesperson for Cisco declined to comment on the story.
Next page: Built for virtualization
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Built for virtualization
The source went on to say that Cisco has no interest in the broad, general purpose
market for blades, only for virtualized systems. Analysts noted that most blades are
virtualized anyway, making them de facto mass market products.
"On any blades run now, people are running virtual workloads," said Andi Mann, senior
analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. But he added "this does not sound like
just a copycat move and trying to get into a market someone else owns. This is Cisco
looking at the market and extending it in their own way."
Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor with Illuminata, felt the same way, and is less sold
on the idea. "If you leave aside high performance computing, that's like saying you're
going after where all servers are going," he told InternetNews.com. "The direction
for mainstream servers will be to be virtualized. I don't see that as a tiny niche of
The vast amount of memory would make it ideal for putting up to 100 virtual machines
on the server, a problem blades currently have in that due to memory constraints, they
can only run so many virtual machines.
By using Core i7 instead of Xeon, Cisco gets DDR3 memory, which is much faster than
DDR2 and draws less power. It's also a much lower power draw than FBDIMM used in current
Xeons, which draw much more power than DDR memory and run hotter.
Also, the Core i7 has the new QuickPath Interconnect, which allows for much greater
bandwidth than any prior x86 processor, greatly improving memory performance. After I/O,
memory performance is the second biggest issue vexing virtualized servers.
The goal of Cisco's Project California is to remove the bottlenecks of virtualization,
at the memory and adapter levels. The faster Core i7 and large amount of memory will
improve performance within the blade, and the connection to Unified Fabric will make it
easier to move data in and out of the blade, as well as moving virtual machines around
with VMware's VMotion.
The two analysts were split in their view of the features and strategy. "This makes
those blades extremely agile on how they can move resources around," said Mann. "The
bottlenecks on blades are network traffic. Saturation of the network is much more of a
problem then saturation of memory. This gives enterprises an extremely efficient way of
using computer resources that utilize network connections and storage connections."
Hoff is not sold. "I can appreciate the general point Cisco is making, going after a
specific class of servers, probably relatively higher-priced and higher margins. But I
will point out that a niche strategy has not been an effective strategy for server makers
for the past decade," he said.
"I can't think of a good example of a large storage vendor who has gone into storage
servers in a niche way."
Next page: Returning fire at HP?
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Returning fire at HP?
Why Cisco would enter a new market, one dominated by HP, IBM and Dell, three companies
quite capable of putting up a fight, seems unusual. What may have stirred all of this
might very well be HP nudging into Cisco's territory first.
HP has its own networking equipment, the ProCurve line. The previous CEO of HP, Carly
Fiorina, reportedly encouraged HP's sales force to promote Cisco products over ProCurve
during her tenure. However, the new chief, Mark Hurd, made ProCurve a part of the
company's growth strategy and is directly taking on Cisco in this area.
So is this Cisco's way of telling HP to step off? The source familiar with Project
California thinks so, and so does Haff.
"I'm sure the people involved in it would see it that way," he said. "It sounds like a
toe in the water, an exploration, a competitive counter and so forth, than it does a
broad based foray into the server market."
He added "HP's doing well with ProCurve, I don't see them backing off where they are
Mann agreed. "It's not necessarily a shot directly at HP, but it's a shot across their
bow," he said. "They can't afford to put aside someone like HP or IBM. The hardware in a
datacenter is predominantly HP and IBM. They've got to work with those companies. If they
shut either one out they dig themselves a hole.
"But it could be a message to HP that there's overlap and Cisco will be aggressive in
the datacenter market."
Article courtesy of InternetNews.com