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Data center network brawl

Our take at making sense of competing platforms for unified servers, storage and networking from Cisco, IBM, Juniper and others

By and , Network World
June 03, 2009 01:46 PM ET

Network World - Converged platforms that combine servers, storage and networking into a single system with common management tools are the future of enterprise data centers, if vendor claims are to be believed. Proponents argue that these platforms can lower costs, support better utilization of virtualized resources and speed application deployment.

But what really separates the various offerings -- from Cisco's Unified Computing System to those out of HP, IBM, Sun and others -- from each other? Here's our cheat sheet:

Cisco's Unified Computing approach: Have we got a blade server for you!

The pitch: A unified data center fabric with a lossless, low latency version of Ethernet, which Cisco calls Data Center Ethernet. FibreChannel and other current and legacy storage and server access protocols would run over this ruggedized Ethernet and resources would be allocated virtually via service profiles, reducing cabling, server adapters, switches, space, power consumption and management disciplines. Cisco says it has 400 customers running FibreChannel-over-Ethernet (FCoE) in production mode. At the systems level, blade servers are optimized for this environment, virtual machine-enabled and tightly interwoven with fabric switches and storage.

Recent news: Cisco in January unveiled UCS, Cisco's scheme for how a converged data center, including at the blade server level, should evolve. The embodiment of the company's network-centric view of resource interconnection and accessibility. It also entered the blade server market, long the domain of partners IBM and HP.

What it means to the enterprise: Cisco's unified computing approach offers a way for enterprises looking to cut operational expenses in their data centers while scaling resources. But it introduces a new player to a mature market -- blade servers -- served for years by more established players. Enterprises might find Cisco's view refreshing … or invasive.

Where it falls short: Enterprises may not be confident acquiring mission-critical servers from a relative newcomer to the market. Plus Cisco's approach might be too all-encompassing for them. Would they be putting too many eggs into the Cisco basket? Cisco is alienating longtime data center partners IBM and HP with UCS, and that could be a red flag to buyers.

HP's BladeSystem Matrix: Jump into the physical and virtual resources pool

Data center convergence pitch: By weaving together numerous hardware and software pieces, HP says it combines physical and virtual resources into the same management system, giving IT pros a self-service portal to quickly design, deploy and optimize applications. Instead of "islands" of IT in which separate teams manage different equipment, HP says the data center should be treated as one large pool of computing, network and storage components.

Recent news: HP in April unveiled BladeSystem Matrix, a converged software, server, storage and network platform that starts at $150,000.

What it means to the enterprise: The BladeSystem Matrix starter kit gives customers a full rack with ProLiant blades; a StorageWorks array; HP Virtual Connect Flex-10 Ethernet and 8GB Fibre Channel modules; and Insight Dynamics software to manage and automatically provision resources. Customers have a choice of VMware, Microsoft and Citrix hypervisors. A modular architecture lets customers scale up without limits.

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