Cisco exec rationalizes data center invasion

Sees chance to innovate beyond networking as industry anticipates blade server entry

Cisco sees an opportunity to broaden its data center presence into areas traditionally occupied by longtime partners.

SAN JOSE -- As the industry awaits Cisco's expected entry into the blade server market, the company sees an opportunity to broaden its data center presence into areas traditionally occupied by longtime partners.

While neither confirming nor denying an upcoming blade server offering, John McCool, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Data Center Switching and Services group, did say that there are areas within the data center beyond networking where Cisco can iron out "seams" of technology among servers, switches and storage devices.

"I can't comment on an unannounced product," McCool said about reports that Cisco will unveil its own blade server system, expected next year. "I would say though that you see what we've done with the [Nexus] 1000V -- the interesting things now are happening at the seams of technology. Obviously, we represent the networking component. But you have a virtualization layer that's now emerged in data centers and you have compute.

"We're very much interested in making the whole environment -- we call it unified computing -- a homogeneous environment by making those seams not look like gaps in IT," McCool said during an interview at Cisco's annual C-Scape analyst conference here.

Cisco's Nexus 1000V is a software switch that runs on multivendor servers. It takes a virtual machine's network and security properties with it while the virtual machine is moved around the data center.

Sources expect Cisco next year to roll out an internally developed blade-server system based on Intel processors and a Linux operating system. The system also is expected to support Cisco's unified fabric, which supports multiple types of data-center traffic over a single Ethernet host bus adapter.

"We really see that as the connection between the server and then the switch," McCool said of the unified fabric approach. "So, we've virtualized effectively what used to be different host bus adapters. An application can still think it's talking to separate host bus adapters because you're not rewriting your application. It comes out of a single physical link so you've saved a ton of power. And you can wire once all your data center computers and . . . that server is capable of running any of those applications."

Observers expect the Cisco blade server system to encroach on the traditional data center strongholds of longtime Cisco partners IBM and HP. It is expected to significantly strain the relationships Cisco has with those companies.

McCool was philosophical about that impact. "We see such a shift in the technology landscape with virtualization that it's creating a new set of challenges that have to be innovated," he said. "I'm sure those companies are looking at their own vectors of innovation on how to address this. Change brings challenges, challenges hopefully brings innovation. We've decided to embrace the challenge and believe that we can innovate.

"I would think the nature of partnerships in general is going to change," McCool said. "The nature of large organizations, especially solving customer problems, there's going to be a little bit of overlap, a little bit of collaboration."

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