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Can Cisco sell 'unified' vision to a tough server crowd?

By , Network World
March 19, 2009 05:09 PM ET

Network World - Cisco's biggest challenge in gaining market acceptance for its new Unified Computing System is to convince data center managers to buy blade servers from the router giant instead of from traditional, incumbent suppliers.

"Server buyers don't have a relationships with Cisco," says James Staten of Forrester Research. "It will be tough to convince them of the need for another player in this market."

Cisco last week finally took the wraps off of its long-anticipated UCS platform, which incorporates internally developed blade servers and is designed to tightly integrate data center computing, storage, networking and virtualization capabilities. The blade server component has been the focus of much industry speculation over the past year, and what it might mean to Cisco's relationships with longtime partners and blade server makers HP and IBM.

Cisco acknowledges that it will now compete with those titans in the data center blade server market. But it also claims it had no choice – and that those trying to pit Cisco and UCS directly against HP and IBM blade servers are missing the point.
"We focus not on competition, but where the market is going," Cisco CEO John Chambers said during last week's launch. "This is the future of the data center. It will evolve into clouds and change business models forever."

Indeed, while tongues were wagging over the past year about Cisco's entry into the blade server market, the company stressed the holistic approach of UCS during its launch, saying its innovations in tying together servers, storage, networking and virtualization make it unique in the industry.

It's not a blade server, company officials insisted; it's an architecture.

UCS is designed to let customers 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 such as 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 storage-area networks (SAN), network-attached storage and iSCSI platforms.

UCS provides as much as a 20% reduction in capital expenditures and as much as a 30% reduction in operational expenditures, Cisco says. 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 as much as 50%, which translates into lower power and cooling requirements.
The system also is intended to provide investment protection through "industry standards," Cisco says. At the same time, however, the company 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.

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