REVIEW: Cisco Unified Computing System Is a Robust Platform for Physical, Virtual Data Center Ops

By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2009-10-09 Print this article Print

eWEEK Labs' exclusive hands-on tests show that Cisco's UCS (Unified Computing System) combines high-end hardware with integrated management software to create a data center computing platform capable of hosting high-value applications, despite some Version 1.0 flaws.

The Cisco Unified Computing System combines high-end hardware with integrated management software to create a data center computing platform capable of hosting high-value applications.

Cisco UCS was announced in March and started shipping at the end of July. The system I tested has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $81,000.

Labs Gallery: Cisco Unified Computing System Hardware

Labs Gallery: Cisco Unified Computing System Software

In my exclusive hands-on review of the equipment and software that together compose the Cisco UCS offering, conducted on-site at Cisco, I determined that the platform has all the basic ingredients necessary to handle physical and virtual data center operations. The product platform showed some Version 1.0 flaws, but overall demonstrated that a UCS installation can grow in size without a corresponding increase in management staff or policy complexity.

The trade-off for this simplification is a buy-in to a Cisco-only platform on the hardware side. In addition to the server blades and blade chassis, there is a layer of fabric connections that require Cisco gear to complete.

At this time, Cisco uses only Intel Xeon 5500 ("Nehalem") processors, which means no AMD option. UCS management policy is also heavily tilted toward VMware. That said, I've tested several data center servers based on the Intel Xeon 5500 microarchitecture that have provided outstanding performance, and VMware-especially with the introduction of vSphere 4-continues to set a high bar for virtual machine performance and management.

While my work with the Cisco UCS showed that the management tools provide the building blocks for a tightly controlled data center environment, implementing Cisco UCS doesn't require a rip-and-replace decision regarding system management tools that are likely already well-established in your data center. The UCS Manager software is a device manager that uses an X M L-based API that provides ample integration with system management tools from BMC, CA, HP, IBM Tivoli and Symantec. I used the UCS Manager's GUI during my tests, but everything that can be done through the GUI can also be accomplished using the CLI (command line interface).

For IT managers who must pay attention to both virtual and physical resources, the Cisco UCS system is well worth considering. The top-notch hardware components are well-integrated with each other and effectively managed with the Cisco UCS Manager software.

Cameron Sturdevant Cameron Sturdevant is the executive editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Prior to ENP, Cameron was technical analyst at PCWeek Labs, starting in 1997. Cameron finished up as the eWEEK Labs Technical Director in 2012. Before his extensive labs tenure Cameron paid his IT dues working in technical support and sales engineering at a software publishing firm . Cameron also spent two years with a database development firm, integrating applications with mainframe legacy programs. Cameron's areas of expertise include virtual and physical IT infrastructure, cloud computing, enterprise networking and mobility. In addition to reviews, Cameron has covered monolithic enterprise management systems throughout their lifecycles, providing the eWEEK reader with all-important history and context. Cameron takes special care in cultivating his IT manager contacts, to ensure that his analysis is grounded in real-world concern. Follow Cameron on Twitter at csturdevant, or reach him by email at

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