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.
Cisco Not Taking Its Eye off Networking Ball
Principal analyst Galen Schreck of Forrester Research agreed with Frey on the point about corporate focus.
“I don’t think they’d be really taking its eye off the networking ball for a couple reasons,” Schreck told eWEEK. “No. 1: Cisco has a colossal amount of resources dedicated to selling network infrastructure, I don’t think those investments have been meaningfully affected by this product launch.
“No. 2: I would argue that Cisco is actually protecting (or growing) its data center networking turf. The advent of virtual switches inside VMware ESX and devices like HP’s VirtualConnect could dilute Cisco’s ability to create end-to-end network infrastructure that is managed under one umbrella, and offers policies that follow applications throughout the data center.
“In other words, they are also protecting their networking business by moving into this space. Virtualization (and newer blade systems) are causing a collision between what used to be two separate silos,” Schreck said.
Elizabeth Walther, spokesperson for storage networking competitor Brocade, told eWEEK that “Cisco’s approach to ‘unified computing’ is not revolutionary. Many companies with extensive experience, including Brocade, in solving complex data center issues are already working on solutions.”
The challenge at hand, Walther said, is that the evolution of the data center to a fully virtualized state is “extremely complex and should leverage open architectures and industry standards.”
“A dynamic and virtualized data center holds the promise of many compelling benefits for end users, including increased server utilization, decrease in power footprint and more efficient operations in general,” Walther said. “However, achieving this goal is a complex challenge that can be best tackled by a broad ecosystem of industry partners and not based on a proprietary, singular architecture of one company.”
‘Choice and Flexibility’ a Possible Issue
Andy Ingram, Juniper Networks’ vice president of product marketing and business development, data center business group, told eWEEK that “competition is always welcome, but Cisco’s new strategy does not seem to meet the market demand for choice and flexibility.
“In terms of product choices, it’s the rack server form factor that currently dominates market volume, yet Cisco is only offering a blade chassis form factor. At the same time, this product is targeted at customers and applications that have been virtualized using hypervisors and virtual machines, which accounts for somewhere between 12 percent and 20 percent of the market. Cisco is entering a $50 billion server market with only a partial solution,” Ingram said.
CTO Bryan Doerr of IT infrastructure-as-a-service provider Savvis told eWEEK that “it’s time for the industry to see a different style of compute platform for the data center, re-envisioned for virtualization, which is a very healthy development.”
Savvis provides managed hosting, colocation, and network connectivity, supported by the company’s global data center and network infrastructure.
Doerr said that Savvis has been using UCS B-Series server and accompanying software platform for only about three weeks. “We’re running it though a series of basic-configuration tests and ‘getting-acquainted’ procedures. We’re undecided in terms of how we’ll use it in a platform, or an offering, or in what time frame,” Doerr said.
“What we haven’t done is run it through scale-level testing and QOS-level features, or the API we’d be integrating with. What we have seen so far is that it does function the way Cisco intended. They’ve accomplished a number of positive capabilities, and rendered them well and intuitively through the GUI, so I think at this stage, while it is early in the process, we’ve gotten good feelings from the platform,” Doerr said.