Cisco enters server market with Unified Computing System

UCS announcement includes blade servers, propels Cisco into overall data center business

In a much-anticipated announcement, Cisco Systems Inc. today launched its Unified Computing System, which includes virtualization technology, services and blade servers aimed at helping enterprises develop and manage what it calls "next-generation data centers."

Cisco's new data center architecture comprises compute, network, storage access and virtualization resources in a single rackable system designed to cut IT infrastructure costs and complexity, stretch existing IT investments and allow enterprise customers to build an agile data center that they can easily extend for future growth, according to the company.

Taking a step into the server market, where it will compete with long-standing partners like Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM, Cisco announced its UCS B-Series blades, based on upcoming Intel Nehalem processors. Cisco said the blades incorporate extended memory technology for applications with large data sets.

On the other hand, Cisco is teaming up with software partners such as Microsoft Corp., VMware Inc. and BMC Software Inc. to provide technology for its new system. Cisco will preinstall, resell and support Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 with Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization technology and SQL Server 2008 database as part of UCS. Meanwhile, virtualization market leader VMware is providing its tools for use within the new system, and BMC is contributing resource management software.

For Linux users, Cisco will sell and support Red Hat Enterprise Linux as part of UCS and will support Red Hat Inc.'s new virtualization software as well. Like its new rivals HP and IBM, Cisco is becoming an OEM partner to server operating system vendors, selling their software on its new blades.

Systems integrator Accenture Ltd. has signed on to be a services partner, introducing today four services options for its customers to deploy UCS. And Cisco is inviting its broad network of channel partners to work with the company to provide the new infrastructure to enterprise customers.

Prior to today's announcement, Cisco had laid out its intention to eliminate the manual integration of computing and storage platforms with networks and virtualization systems. In a recent blog post, Padmasree Warrior, the company's chief technology officer, acknowledged that the new strategy will lead Cisco to compete with some of its business partners.

Most enterprises have been able to realize the benefits of the first phase of virtualization, consolidating their data centers for economies of scale and simpler management. But it's been hard to achieve full virtualization, in which virtual machines can continuously move among servers, analysts say. That would allow users to quickly add processing power as demand for an application grows, or enable them to temporarily move processing tasks off of a system at night for hardware maintenance.

Vendors of servers, storage and software all can play roles in managing resources in virtualized data centers. Cisco executives have said that the network is the best place to tackle many of these tasks because it is the only element of the infrastructure that touches everything.

IBM and HP haven't overlooked the importance of networks in controlling data centers. IBM has aligned with Cisco rival Juniper Networks Inc. in a broad strategy called the Stratus Project, and HP is expected to increasingly tie its growing ProCurve networking business in with its computing offerings.

Cisco has pushed to bring more functions into the network infrastructure for several years, including security, application optimization and adaptation of multimedia to fit different clients and purposes. As revenue growth from its core routing and switching businesses slows, the company is aggressively branching out into new areas, including consumer electronics and its TelePresence high-definition videoconferencing product line.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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