Cisco Systems Launches Long-Anticipated Unified Computing System

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-03-16

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Cisco Systems officially entered the data center systems business March 16, with CEO John Chambers comparing the move to previous landmark networking initiatives that had routers developing into switches in 1993 and PBX to VOIP telephony a few years later.

Rather generically called the "Cisco Unified Computing System," the initiative consists of a new data center architecture, a new server and a new set of management software and services based on Intel's powerful new quad-core Nehalem Xeon processors.

The Intel contribution is the key to the whole deal. Without the quad-core horsepower under the hood of Cisco's upcoming UCS B-Class server, all this new computing ability won't fly as well as the market will demand.

EMC and NetApp will provide a substantial amount of the storage capacity, at least at the outset of the project. BMC is providing the only provisioning, change management and configuration software in the stack. VMware and Microsoft both will be adding their virtualization layers -- depending upon the choice of the customer -- and Accenture will help shape the individual product solutions for customers.

The first configurations of the new UCS platform will become available in Q2, Paul Durzan, Cisco's director of platform marketing, told eWEEK.

The press-analyst conference on the expansive Cisco campus utilized Cisco's TelePresence -- a real-time, life-size, high-definition teleconferencing system launched in 2006. In this instance, the conference was linked to 14 locations around the world and included a heavyweight lineup of Cisco partners that included CEO Paul Otellini of Intel, President/CEO Joe Tucci of EMC, CEO Bob Beauchamp of BMC, CEO Paul Maritz of VMware, CEO William Green of Accenture, and Bob Muglia, president of servers and tools for Microsoft.

"We are simplifying the acccess to storage and compute," Rob Lloyd, worldwide director of sales for Cisco, said. "We want to move new workloads into a cloud-like structure. We see the 'inter-cloud' as any application, any device, any consumer, connected to any concept anywhere in the world.

"This is a networking issue, that's why we can solve it."

Increasingly, virtualization is the layer in which software sees the underlying infrastructure, said Maritz of VMware. "The only evolutionary road a customer can now walk on to reach these level of cloud innovation will be this one. This is a great synthesis of technology that will lead to revolutionary things.

"Speaking as a software guy, our oxygen is really great hardware. Other times it bails us out of our sins," Maritz said.

'Shot Across the Bow' at HP?

The biggest takeaway from all of this is that Cisco is finally in the server business, Forrester Research data center and virtualization analyst James Staten told eWEEK.

"That's the biggest bombshell that has dropped. People have been anticipating it for a while," Staten said.

"It's definitely a shot across the bow for HP, and John [Chambers] was explicit to say that, which I was glad to hear. The best thing about this is, that he's doing this not just to do it; he's doing it because there is an inflection point in the market, driven by 10GB Ethernet. And he's leveraging it well.

"The tough part here is that the server buyer has no relationship with Cisco. And they don't know why they need one. So it's definitely a CIO [high-level] sale, and CIO sales can be very tough. But if you're a strategic partner to that CIO, which is where they're starting, that's a pretty safe place to start. They have to establish credibility with a core set of customers before the rest of the customers will be open to them. I think they're taking that strategy well."

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