Cisco Systems has announced the launch of its Unified Computing System, an ecosystem that will incorporate a new blade server and the VMware virtualization platform. Cisco's announcement positions the company to compete against IBM and Hewlett-Packard in the enterprise data center space.
Cisco's other partners in the venture include Intel, Accenture, Microsoft, SAP, EMC, Red Hat, and host of other IT vendors all looking to expand their own ecosystem at that same time Cisco is expanding its offerings.
Cisco and VMware, having entered into an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) agreement, anticipate that the relationship will eventually provide a foundation for cloud-based services.
In a March 16 presentation, VMware CEO Paul Maritz claimed the synchronization of the two companies' offerings as "the only evolutionary road customers can walk on if they want to reach these levels of cloud-like operation."
Maritz went on to predict that the release of the Unified Computing System would increase the pace of virtualization adoption across the enterprise.
"Not only the flexibility benefits, but the efficiency benefits are going to make this one of those compelling events that will...accelerate the trend toward virtualization," Maritz said.
VMware and Cisco have collaborated in the past. At the 2008 VMworld conference, the two jointly announced the development of a software switch that could be used within virtual environments to manage, secure and network virtual machines.
In 2007, Cisco pumped more than $150 million into VMware right before the latter's highly touted IPO. Ever since, VMware has denied persistent rumors of a Cisco buyout.
The VMware virtualization platform will allow the Cisco Unified Computing System to support thousands of virtual machines; the Unified Computing System will include the VMware vCenter suite of virtualization-management products. Cisco is also introducing a series of physical blade servers, code-named "California," that will run on the Intel Nehalem processors.
"We enter markets when we see inflection points occurring," Cisco CEO John Chambers said during the presentation. "Today we're talking about unified computing; then we'll talk about private clouds."
Analysts see the partnership as a mutually beneficial one.
"[Unified Computing System] is a more integrated platform to deliver virtualization on; and now that Cisco is going to offer this directly in their solutions, this is another big plug for using things like VMware," Jim Frey, an analyst with Enterprise Management Associates, said in an interview. "Cisco also needs to ride the virtualization wave; without that, they don't have a distinctive differentiation."
Overall, Cisco faces some heated competition with its Unified Computing System, particularly when it comes to its new blade servers - perhaps one of the reasons why the company played down the rollout of the servers as part of its presentation.
"If they focus too much on the blade, they have to focus on competing on that front," Frey said, adding that Cisco would be "walking into a vicious firefight" against blade vendors such as HP.
However, "Cisco is in a position that the other blade server guys really aren't - and they're taking advantage of some of their capabilities."