Data center network brawl

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

Cisco has the much-touted Unified Computing System. How do the other big vendors stack up in the battle for the converged data center?

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.

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