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Cisco busts out beyond blade servers with Unified Computing System

UCS links servers, storage, networking, virtualization

By , Network World
March 16, 2009 01:45 PM ET
Cisco Unified Computing System with 8 UCS B-Series Blades

Network World - It's not a blade server – it's an architecture.

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Cisco stressed the holistic approach of its Unified Computing System during its widely watched launch Monday, claiming its innovations in tying together servers, storage, networking and virtualization make it unique in the industry. Observers trying to pit IT directly against HP and IBM data center blade servers were missing the point, Cisco officials suggested.

"We focus not on competition, but where the market is going," Cisco CEO John Chambers said during the system's launch. "This is the future of the data center. It will evolve into clouds and change business models forever."

Cisco Unified Computing System is designed to allow customers to build next-generation data centers that are optimized for virtualized resources – servers, storage, applications, and networking. It is intended to manage data center operations as a unified environment and supports applications and services from leading vendors, including Microsoft, EMC, VMware, Red Hat and Novell.

Cisco came up with the Unified Computing concept three years ago and launched product development shortly thereafter, Chambers said.

Cisco says UCS can reduce IT infrastructure costs and complexity, help extend capital assets and improve business operations. UCS features a "wire once" unified data center fabric for single access to SANs, network attached storage, and iSCSI platforms.

UCS provides up to a 20% reduction in capital expenditures and up to a 30% reduction in operational expenditures, Cisco claims. It can provision applications in minutes instead of days, can be managed as a single system supporting more than 300 servers and thousands of virtual machines, and improves energy efficiency by reducing the number of servers, switches, adapters and cables by up to 50%, which translates into lower power and cooling requirements.

The system is also intended to provide investment protection through "industry standards," Cisco says. At the same time, however, Cisco stressed its uniqueness in that each element – server, storage, networking and virtualization – is optimized for operation within the UCS system through patented techniques for memory expansion, management, and fabric connection.

Blade servers from other vendors – like HP and IBM – and other individual elements may not be able to fully utilize these advances, Cisco officials suggested during the UCS launch.(Compare Server products.) Much has been made of how Cisco's move into this market would pit it against former partners.

"We're selling this as a system," said Rob Lloyd, senior vice president of Cisco Worldwide Operations. "It will be shipped and configured as a system. The innovations are all tied together. This is not a new blade server; it is a new architecture."

Adds Cisco marketing vice-president David Lawler, "Other vendors' solutions will not work because (UCS is) a single unified system. And we're not developing blades for other [vendors'] platforms."

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