Cisco's UCS Drives the Vendor Onto Top 5 Server Lists

Both IDC and Gartner said Cisco broke into their lists of top server vendors in Q4, though IBM, HP and Dell continue to dominate the market.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell continued their dominance of the global server market, but Cisco Systems—on the back of its Unified Computing System converged data center offering—has muscled its way into the top five, according to numbers released by analyst firms Gartner and IDC.

Cisco tied with Fujitsu and Oracle for fourth place in fourth-quarter 2012 server revenue, and tied with Fujitsu for fifth in revenue for the entire year, IDC analysts said in a Feb. 27 report. Meanwhile, Gartner said Feb. 27 that Cisco placed fifth in server shipments for the quarter, and was the only vendor in the top five to see a growth in shipments, with a 40.9 percent jump over the same quarter in 2011.

Cisco executives for more than a year have touted the strong growth of their UCS offering, which provides Cisco server and networking products, storage from EMC and NetApp and virtualization technology from VMware in a converged, modular solution for data centers. In a conference call with analysts and journalists Feb. 14 to discuss fourth-quarter financial numbers, Cisco CEO John Chambers said the company now has more than 20,000 UCS customers, and that the UCS, combined with Nexus switch products, has been a key driver of Cisco's data center business, which saw a 65 percent rise in revenue.

Cisco introduced the UCS in 2009, a signal that the company was looking to expand its presence in the data center beyond networking equipment and a move that has made Cisco a top seller for blade systems and put it into more direct competition with such vendors as IBM and HP.

The strength of Cisco's UCS offering also is indicative of where the server market is headed, with x86-based systems becoming an increasingly large percentage of the overall number of servers shipped worldwide and a growing demand for modular form factors, which include blades that are used by enterprises for their virtualized and private cloud environments and density-optimized systems found in large data centers run by the likes of Facebook and Google as well as service providers, according to IDC analysts.

"Both types of modular form factors outperformed the overall server market, indicating customers are increasingly favoring specialization in their server designs" Jed Scaramella, research manager for enterprise servers for IDC, said in a statement. "Density Optimized servers were positively impacted by the growth of service providers in the market. In addition to HPC [high-performance computing], cloud and IT service providers favor the highly efficient and scalable design of Density Optimized servers. … IDC is observing an increased interest from the market for converged systems, which use blades as the building block. Enterprise IT organizations are viewing converged systems as a method to simplify management and increase their time to value."