IBM, naturally, would be the other big one. But outside of general information about its Blue Cloud initiative and partnership opportunities to create next-generation data centers, we have yet to hear a clear strategy from IT’s biggest kahuna on the unified computing topic.
Smaller upstarts, such as Liquid Computing, are also coming into the picture. Liquid is collaborating with Intel to produce the new Liquid Elements unified computing software package that will be gaining attention soon.
The general direction of all of this is toward cloud computing, and the question is: Who will become the go-to suppliers of new systems needed to run Internet-delivered services as older data centers get replaced during the next several years?
The stakes are high; these new centers are going to cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars apiece. Branding and customer loyalities loom large in these market battles.
Cisco and HP are earning most of the data center headlines lately. Both companies have come out in 2009 with new-generation data center innards that combine computing power, networking, storage, and data security and management in ever-shrinking physical hardware. This is supposed to put much more functionality into far fewer boxes, resulting in less power drawn from the wall, fewer square feet to buy and cool, and less staff time required to handle it all.
No need for separate servers to do partitioning, encryption, networking, e-mail-and so on-anymore. It’s all very politically, environmentally and fiscally correct.
Cisco introduced its Unified Computing System back on March 16. It consists of a new data center architecture, a new Cisco-designed server, and a new set of management software and services based on Intel’s powerful quad-core Nehalem Xeon processors.
HP revealed its Converged Infrastructure strategy Nov. 4, one day after Cisco, storage giant EMC and virtualization technology vendor VMware refined their UCS agreement and announced a tighter partnership to develop and market preintegrated computing systems called vBlocks.
HP’s “converged” system is built of its own C-class blade servers, StorageWorks arrays, and in-house networking and data management software.
The HP strategy combines hardware, software and services to create an infrastructure that brings together computing, storage, networking and management resources into a single pool designed to help increase businesses’ agility and efficiency and drive down operation and maintenance costs in the data center.
Just like Cisco’s system.
Different Approaches, Similar Systems
UCS and CI are different names but fundamentally the same sort of data center system. Cisco and HP have very diverse production and go-to-market approaches, however.
Cisco, a networking hardware and software company that wants to become a data center systems supplier, has literally recruited its friends in the business to partner with it in the Acadia joint venture announced Nov. 3. Cisco CEO John Chambers and EMC President and CEO Joe Tucci are friends of more than two decades.
Tucci then recruited his friend, VMware CEO Paul Maritz, from Microsoft to run the virtualization giant for EMC; VMware is now the third partner in the Acadia startup. Former Intel CTO Pat Gelsinger is now at EMC, and, of course, Intel is a big player in all of this. There’s no lack of corporate networking going on here.
Cisco clearly believes that to build the best-performing, most efficient and cost-effective data center, you have to bring in trusted outside experts. Thus, Cisco, EMC, VMware and Intel are the equity-sharing partners in Acadia, which plans to open its doors on Jan. 1, 2010.
“This brings together three companies that have a record of being open,” Cisco’s Chambers said. “We’re not going to try to lock you in.”
That is a matter of opinion. Cisco’s take on the vBlock is obviously a proprietary one, in that a network-oriented Cisco UCS server is required to run it, EMC is needed to store the data and VMware is necessary to provide the operating system and virtualization layer. No substitutions are allowed in a vBlock deployment. Most people would call that lock-in.
Swap-outs are allowed in the regular Cisco UCS, but then the deployment becomes a hybrid of some kind. Cisco-EMC-VMware will sell you that, too, but it’s not the same as a vBlock-branded solution, and the services that come with a hybrid are not the same.
In any case, Cisco doesn’t have the product line that would allow it to pull the entire load of selling and supplying this heavy-duty new hardware and software by itself.
“There’s no way one company can do all this by itself,” Tucci said. “No way.”
To all of this, Hewlett-Packard says, in effect: “Now, wait a second!”
HP Sees Itself as One-Stop Shop
HP, like its nemesis, IBM, believes it can supply basically everything needed-including the preplanning, design and architectural services anyone needs to get a data center up and running in a few months. Looking at the depth of HP’s product catalog, one would be hard-pressed to argue that point.
HP has quietly built its own in-house, all-purpose build-a-data center capability, thanks both to the 2008 purchase of Electronic Data Systems for $13.9 billion and the acquisition of EYP Mission Critical Facilities, the second-largest data center designer and builder in the U.S. market.
Acquisitions of this kind have led to HP’s converged data center strategy and subsequent products and services. The company’s high market share in servers, storage-yes, even networking-is substantial. It has loyal customers in all these areas globally.
“We’re the only one with the IP [intellectual property] across the [technology] stacks,” David Donatelli, executive vice president of HP’s Enterprise Servers and Networking, told eWEEK. “You can’t partner your way to a converged architecture. You have to work your way from the ground up.”
Yankee Group data center analyst Zeus Kerravala, who is among those researching the markets to see what will be in demand over the next months and years, said he likes both approaches but thinks the Cisco approach may attract a lot of attention off the top.
“We found that 57 percent [of IT managers] prefer an internal or private cloud, and another 31 percent would prefer a hybrid model. But most solutions available on the market today are public, which is in far less enterprise demand,” Kerravala said. “In theory, cloud computing should simplify enterprise computing, but the path to cloud [computing] is filled with complexity as organizations need to build transition plans and learn best practices. So, for customers that are interested in cloud computing, the VCE coalition, supported by Acadia, provides an excellent way to evolve to the preferred cloud model while minimizing the risk surrounding deployment.”
The Acadia news was undoubtedly hard on several Cisco UCS partners. Microsoft, Accenture, BMC Software and NetApp weren’t even mentioned during the Nov. 4 announcement.
BMC is supplying all the data center management software for Cisco UCS and for the Acadia vBlock venture. Tucci raised some eyebrows when he claimed credit for EMC at the Nov. 3 announcement for supplying that key software, but in fact EMC is licensing the BMC software.
NetApp was left out in the Acadia cold due to the presence of longtime bitter rival EMC, which is locked into the deal through its own storage,VMware, and those key friendships.
NetApp Chief Marketing Officer Jay Kidd was blunt about his company’s take on the deal. “We view the announcement as a clever attempt by Cisco to sell UCS servers into EMC’s install base,” Kidd e-mailed to eWEEK.
“We also feel that this announcement further validates the trend that we’re seeing as more and more enterprises move to a virtualized dynamic data center infrastructure. NetApp has been at the forefront in helping enterprises realize this shift through our close partnerships with Cisco and VMware. With VMware we have virtualized large data centers for customers like T-Systems, BT and Sprint, and have expanded on these architectures with several integration partners to include Cisco UCS servers.
“Open partnerships, not closed coalitions, are what customers need and want to make the transformation to a virtualized data center.”
There is much more to come on this topic, that’s for sure.