Cisco's Virtual Entrance

by Amy Newman

Virtually Speaking: Cisco's new blade server has its eye on the virtual infrastructure, but can it win the hearts of potential customers?

Cisco's eagerly anticipated introduction of its new blade server on Monday was no surprise. It was probably the worst kept secret of the tech world for several weeks now.

No surprise also was the unveiling of its Nehalem-processor-based UCS B-Series blades that was the subject of many of the swirling rumors.

This announcement is about more than hardware though. Cisco's vision is a major strategy shift, and one that pits it against vendors with which its still-core products of switches and routers was once complementary.

The initiative is being called Unified Computing System. Its aim, as its name implies, is to unify network, storage, server and virtualization capabilities into one system. The new blade server is the where it all comes together.

This obviously puts Cisco in direct competition with the major OEMs. To demonstrate its commitment and shore up confidence from potential customers, Cisco has put together an impressive partner ecosystem: EMC, Intel VMware and Microsoft were on hand at the launch to sing praises for the product. Accenture, BMC, Red Hat, Novell, Oracle and SAP are also partners.

New entrants in the major OEM space are infrequent. In terms of players, the past decade has seen more shrinkage than growth, and with IBM in talks with Sun to acquire the beleaguered vendor, it may be about to get smaller.

A new player will certainly shake things up.

However, unlike IBM, HP and Dell (and even to some degree, Sun), which see today's server's room as heterogeneous, Cisco's vision does not. Cisco's vision is all-encompassing. The only thing missing is storage, Glenn Keels, director, data center solutions told ServerWatch, and the blade server "easily hooks into any storage system."

With EMC as a key partner, it's likely storage will find its way into the offering as well.

So while everything in the Unified Computing System "industry standard," and it can hook into any network and scale without needing additional management software, its inherent positioning as an end-to-end solution brings to mind vendor lock-in and potential integration issues.

For enterprises building a data center from the ground up, the Unified Computing System may indeed offer everything they're looking for and need in a 21st century data center. It is also likely a good fit for organizations that need to upgrade their hardware to deploy a virtual infrastructure effectively — especially if they're not planning to keep the new infrastructure completely separate from the old.

But the majority of enterprises do not throw out all of their old hardware and replace it with new — especially in the current economic times. Server sales are on the decline, and enterprises, even those looking to deploy virtualization on a wide-scale basis, are more likely to buy new hardware for their mission-critical apps and downgrade the old hardware to virtual deployment than to start with a new completely new infrastructure from an unproven server vendor.

Although Cisco revealed its vision, it did not provide all the details. That is expected to occur at the end of the month. Presumably pricing and a launch date more specific that calendar year, second quarter will become known at this time.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is coauthoring a book about virtualization that is scheduled for publication in September 2009.

This article was originally published on Wednesday Mar 18th 2009
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