Mixed Reaction to Cisco Systems' Unified Computing System Strategy

UPDATED: Competitors claim Cisco will be locking out open systems choices by requiring its own Data Center Ethernet connectivity; others see the strategy as a bold new move toward the next-generation data center.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Reaction to Cisco Systems' launch of its Unified Computing System data center platform came swiftly on March 16, and the reviews were clearly mixed.

A lot of IT people and companies apparently were interested in this news, which cuts across all parts of the data center: software, hardware, services, virtualization, storage, computing power, data center management; the list of affiliations is lengthy.

Naturally, Cisco's competitors in the networking business voiced their biased takes; one beta user (Savvis) talked to eWEEK about his experience in testing the platform; and several analysts gave their level-headed opinions.
Hewlett-Packard, which stands to become one of Cisco's biggest competitors in the race to rebuild data centers over the next decade, was point-blank about its take on the UCS strategy.

"Would you let a plumber build your house?" Jim Ganthier, HP's vice president of Infrastructure Software and Blades, told eWEEK. "Cisco's network-centric view of the data center is great for bandwidth management, but leaves a lot to chance in terms of service level delivery as well as data reliability and accessibility.

"The architecture does not unify management, but uses proprietary network-based management structure as the point of control. This is not 'unification,' this is a change of control," Ganthier said.

There is considerable workload balancing, policy enforcement, compliance, replication, optimization and power management that happen at the server and the storage levels, Ganthier said.

"Storage and server administrators are important to keeping applications up and running reliably at all times and to maintain access to critical data," Ganthier said. "'Checking in' with the network administrator every time a change needs to be made could have disastrous consequences. Cisco's vision is also 'one size fits all.'"

'UCS: Locking out vendors like HP and IBM'

BLADE Network Technologies President and CEO Vikram Mehta, a Cisco competitor that makes Ethernet switches for HP and IBM servers, told eWEEK that he believes Cisco's "so-called unified computing strategy holds vast and arguably adverse implications as a way to lock customers into a proprietary world while locking out vendors like HP and IBM that are trusted open systems suppliers to enterprises around the world."

Cisco's converged data and storage networking requires Cisco's Data Center Ethernet (DCE), Mehta said, thus eliminating freedom of choice with a sole-source Cisco-only server and network.

"This puts at risk integration and interoperability with vast existing installations. The rest of the industry is working on an open approach called Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) using IEEE's Data Center Bridging (DCB) standards," Mehta said.

Research director Jim Frey of Enterprise Management Associates told eWEEK that he sees two key implications for the networking market.

"First, this sets a new high-water mark for integrating networking technologies more tightly into computing and storage architectures -- something only Cisco is in a position to pull off -- that may represent a true second generation of convergence (first gen was voice/data networking)," Frey said.

"Secondly, this aggressive move into computing raises the likelihood that other blade providers, most notably HP and IBM, will seek to find and energize alternatives to Cisco. HP has a good option with their ProCurve products, but IBM does not have an immediate answer. In the end, it will force competitive innovation in networking technologies, which is good for everyone."

Is there a danger that Cisco could possibly taking its eye off the ball in networking, since it's now venturing into new territory in the data center?

"Cisco is certainly not taking their 'eye off the ball'; they are merely pushing forward in a direction that they believe they must in order to survive the constant forces of commoditization in the networking industry," Frey said.

"By expanding into voice and video, they diversified and moved up the stack. By adding computing to their data center solutions, they accomplish the same. Routing and switching in themselves are not growth markets for them - blade computing is a whole new frontier."

Even with this move, Frey said, Cisco will not be providing "all things data center; however, they will provide another key piece to complement their strength in data center networking and network security.

"What this does represent is a compelling new set of technology options that will certainly change the landscape of both data center computing and networking," Frey said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...