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.
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.