With the UCS, Cisco Proves That It Can Sell Preconfigured Data Center Systems

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2012-01-18

With the UCS, Cisco Proves That It Can Sell Preconfigured Data Center Systems

One year after it started shipping its partner-powered Unified Computing System in July 2009, Cisco Systems announced that it had 1,000 installations processing data workloads in climate-controlled IT centers.

That number alone is noteworthy, because these are not trivial data center units. They require more than a modicum of thought, planning and investment, and most being in the mid-six-figure price range, they are certainly not cheap.

As of Jan. 18, 2012-less than three years after the March 16, 2009 introduction of the UCS-the world's No. 1 Internet pipefitter is proclaiming that it now has 10 times that many installations in production. Ten thousand sales of anything IT, especially as big as these things are, is very impressive.

UCSes are being used to power virtual desktop systems with thousands of users, ATMs, video surveillance systems, hospital X-ray imaging archives, science and military installations-in other words, any and all types of data centers.

Congratulations certainly are in order for those who run Cisco. It's not easy to break into an entire new heavyweight IT division such as data center systems and be competent against the likes of the well-entrenched IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, Dell, and a bevy of smaller and more specialized manufacturers.

A UCS Refresher

As a refresher, we'll define Cisco's UCS. It is a preconfigured, snap-together system (well, there is some wiggle room for customization, but not much) consisting of its own proprietary data center architecture, server and management software and services. The servers run on Intel's quad-core Nehalem Xeon processors and can be upgraded as needed. The system is modular and very scalable.

EMC and its archenemy, NetApp-both friends of Cisco-provide the storage capacity. BMC is providing the provisioning, change management and configuration software in the stack. VMware and Microsoft virtualization layers are sanctioned, and Accenture helps shape the individual product solutions for customers.

The Intel contribution, however, was the key to the whole deal. Without the quad-core horsepower under the hood of the UCS's B-Class server, all this new computing ability couldn't fly as well as the market demanded.

These all are top-flight partners. CEO John Chambers (above right) and Cisco management chose wisely, as the sales figures have borne out.

Cisco Now a True Full-Service Systems Player

For the record, here are some UCS quick facts, as provided by Cisco and industry researcher TheInfoPro:

  • UCS began shipping in July 2009.
  • There are now 10,000 UCS customers "spanning all industries and workloads" (Cisco's words) with product orders at an annualized run rate of $1.1 billion.
  • It set 54 world records in industry performance benchmarks.
  • UCS earned a dozen industry awards for innovation.
  • It's now No. 3 (behind HP and IBM) in sales of x86 blade servers worldwide.

Thus, has Cisco elbowed its way to a seat at the table with the big guys in the all-purpose data center systems sector. Besides the five-star partners it signed up, perhaps the most important inside track it used-and used well-is the fact that somewhat north of 60 percent of all data centers already have some sort of Cisco router, switch or networking software in play, so that the company is hardly a stranger. It's a lot easier to get in the door to sell an additional system if you're already inside the building.

The success of the UCS thus far has more than a few people at Cisco-which has had its share of missteps (who can forget the Flip camera?)-cheering. With a snicker, Cisco dredged up a comment made by a key executive of a partner/competitor, HP, from a speech made at an HP user conference in April 2010. It was the kind of statement that might be blurted out after a few beers at the bar -- not what one would expect from the podium at a partner conference.

"A year from now, the difference will be (Cisco) UCS (Unified Compute System) is dead and we have had phenomenal market share growth in the networking space ... and customers are thrilled and partners are making a lot of money." Those words were spoken by Randy Seidl, HP's senior vice president of the Americas, Enterprise Servers Storage and Networking.

Two years later, it appears that Mr. Seidl-a highly regarded exec who is still SVP at HP-was a little off track. Well, okay, more than a little off track. But he isn't the first, nor will he be the last, to make that sort of claim. They are made in sales presentations every day of the year.

HP, Cisco Ink New Partnership

In the meantime, HP has ceded some ground to Cisco. Last October, the two companies signed an agreement to jointly develop something called the Cisco Fabric Extender for HP BladeSystem-or the Cisco Nexus B22 Fabric Extender (FEX) for HP. The new product, co-engineered by both vendors, is aimed at businesses running HP's c-Class BladeSystem blade servers who want to leverage the Cisco United Fabric.

The Extender, which is available now from HP and its channel partners, is designed to help businesses that already are running HP blades in Cisco switch environments to expand the technology they have rather than having to make major investments in new products.

Does the HP-Cisco Extender deal end the overall sales war between the two? Certainly not. But it's a good move toward better cooperation in the data center, which, after all, is what customers want. At least for now, however, Cisco has removed all doubts by folks like HP's Mr. Seidl that it is a full-service data center player that's here to stay.

eWEEK Managing Editor Jeff Burt contributed to this story.

Follow Chris Preimesberger, eWEEK Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis, on Twitter.

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