Cisco UCS: it's an architecture, stupid!

It's not a blade server - it's an architecture. Cisco stressed the holistic approach of its Unified Computing System during its launch today, claiming its innovations in tying together servers, storage, networking a 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 systems' 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 management data center operations as a unified environment and supports applications and services from several leading vendors, including Microsoft, EMC, VMware, Red Hat, Novell and others.

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, adapetsr 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, if at all, Cisco officials suggested during the UCS launch.

"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."

For the server element, Cisco designed its own computing system -- the so-called UCS B-Series blades -- based on the future Intel Nehalem processor families, the next generation of Intel's Xeon processor. The Cisco blades offer patented extended memory technology to support applications with large data sets and allow more virtual machines per server, the company says.

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