Five years ago, rumors began to swirl about a "Project California" from networking giant Cisco Systems. Cisco had never been in the server business, but Project California was going to change that. On March 16, 2009, Cisco first formally acknowledged Project California with the official announcement of the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS).
The first Cisco UCS servers were based on Intel's Nehalem processor family and powered the UCS B-series blade system. In June of 2009, Cisco expanded its server portfolio with the C-series rack-mounted servers.
This week at the Cisco Partner Summit, Cisco is celebrating and reflecting on the first five years of the UCS platform.
Satinder Sethi, vice president, UCS product management and data center solutions at Cisco, told ServerWatch that UCS now has over 23,000 customers and is ranked number two in the world for blade server market share.
Sethi said that the success of UCS is not just about the integration of networking, compute and storage, but also about the ability of the platform to integrate with partner solutions. Cisco UCS is a key part of the vBlock solution that includes participation from EMC and VMware. Cisco UCS is part of a joint solution with NetApp as well.
From a partner perspective, Sethi said that 90 percent of Cisco's $2 billion UCS business comes by way of channel partners.
Five years ago, UCS customers were all primarily initially existing Cisco networking customers as well.
"About the third year that the UCS was in the market that shifted and customer conversation started with the UCS," Sethi said. "There is still overlap with our networking business, but UCS is pulling a lot."
From a competitive standpoint the idea of converged compute, networking and storage is one that other vendors also now embrace. HP has its AppSystem, which debuted in June of 2011, Oracle has its Exa-class engineered systems, and IBM has PureSystems.
The competitive approaches all tend to help enterprises optimize for specific application workloads, which has not been the approach that Cisco has taken with UCS. Sethi said Cisco has chosen not to take a vertically-integrated application hardware stack approach in order to help organizations avoid siloing their data centers.
"UCS delivers one common shared infrastructure that can deliver on all the different vertical requirements without the need to create a silo," Sethi said. "So you'll never see us come to market with a specific database or Big Data appliance."