Cisco Expands Virtual Ecosystem

by Amy Newman

Virtually Speaking: Cisco has added rack-mount servers to its unified computing system offerings. Will enterprises bite?

Back in March, Cisco made a grand entrance in the server arena when it unveiled a blade server repositioning its latest strategy shift to offer a more holistic solution.

Cisco's unified computing system (UCS) uses virtualization to tie servers, LANs and SANs together.

At the time, there was some skepticism about whether enterprises would be willing to try an end-to-end solution, with rumored potential lock-in, from an unproven server vendor.

Cisco still believes that they are, and last Friday the company announced it would be expanding its offerings in the rack mount market. It also introduced a Virtual Interface Card for its UCS system blade servers that provides greater scalability and flexibility for the potentially increased volume of virtual machines coming through the network interface.

The latest UCS C series of rack-mounted servers are scheduled to debut in 2010, while the the Virtual Interface Cards will be available in December. InternetNews has a concise write-up of the feature set.

The increased functionality and ease of use is obviously a key selling point, but what Paul Durzan, Cisco's director of hardware platform marketing, emphasized to ServerWatch was the potential cost savings. This approach is rather telling.

The fabric extender, for example, which is a key feature in the UCS C servers, simplifies bandwidth management and reduces the amount of cables in the chassis, thus cutting down overall networking costs without expanding the chassis. This results in cost savings within chassis.

Durzan also noted that while the fabric interconnect is purchased up front, the cost, which he described as not terribly high to start with, is even lower over the long term because fewer chassis need to be purchased. So in addition to lower acquisition costs, there is added savings on power and cooling.

In addition, the uplinks are standardized and will fit into any network, thus eliminating the need for specialized hardware. This means enterprises can either use what they have or buy commodity goods. This is in line with Cisco's announcement earlier this month to make its Nexus 4000 switch compatible with HP's and other partner's blades.

Cisco has also been fairly aggressive about growing its partner ecosystem and claims 50 partners, from technology companies as diverse as Red Hat, Oracle, Unisys and SAP.

With providers on board and compatibility and certs cleared, Cisco's server offerings are being positioned clearly.

What is a bit less clear is whether customers are biting yet. Cisco is wide to focus on costs and compatibility.Q2, according to IDC, was the fourth consecutive quarter of revenue decline and the lowest quarterly server revenue amount since the research firm began its quarterly tracking of the server market in 1996.

The product may be fabulous, but if enterprises are looking to do more with what they have, as opposed to get the most bang from their buck with a new purchase, it may be a while before the Cisco servers make an appearance at a data center near you.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Oct 14th 2009
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