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Cisco Makes Big Data Center Play

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Cisco Unified Computing System with 8 UCS B-Series Blades

Cisco Unified Computing System with 8 UCS B-Series Blades
Source: Cisco

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Cisco Monday unveiled its long-awaited push for a greater role in the enterprise data center, with a major new product initiative called the Unified Computing System aimed at unifying network, storage, server and virtualization capabilities into one system.

After months of speculation, its new blade server debuts with a large partner ecosystem and vast promises.

At the heart of the Unified Computing System is Cisco’s new UCS B-Series blades, based on the Intel Nehalem processor family. The new Cisco blades mark the evolution of Cisco’s networking convergence efforts and seek to bring Cisco into broader competition against blade vendors like HP, IBM and Dell.

While Cisco’s long been relegated to handling datacenter networking, the efforts aim to rev up its ability to win more of the business traditionally dominated by HP (NYSE: HPQ), IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Dell (NYSE: DELL) — and to cash in on what it sees as an evolution in datacenter architecture.

That evolution — which Cisco calls Data Center 3.0 — has become a rallying cry for the company, centered around a vision of a flatter data center network architecture that makes it easier for admins to manage, and relying heavily on unified fabric and virtualization.

“Today is an important day for us,” Cisco CEO John Chambers said during the company’s launch event. “We’re really talking about the future of the data center and how this will change the data center for ever.”

Chambers had a slew of high-level executives on hand — either appearing alongside him or conferenced in — to tout the launch, including EMC CEO Joe Tucci, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, VMware CEO Paul Maritz and Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft’s server and tools business. Their purpose aimed to highlight the broad open ecosystem of partners Cisco is bringing in on the UCS platform.

Other vendors involved with Cisco on the UCS effort include Accenture, BMC, Red Hat, Novell, Oracle and SAP.

Unifying Data Center Computing

Management is a key component of the new UCS system, providing users with the ability to manage storage, networking and application. The Cisco UCS Manager gives users a graphical user interface (GUI), a command-line interface (CLI) and an API to let others plug into the architecture.

Cisco claims that its UCS Manager will help to increase productivity and efficiency.

For the blade chassis, the new Cisco UCS 5100 series blade server chassis can support eight blade UCS B-Series servers, which all can tap into VMware virtualization. In terms of networking hardware, Cisco is rolling out the new Cisco UCS 6100 Series Fabric Interconnects, which are intended to provide Fiber Channel over Ethernet and 10 GbE interconnects.

A key element wrapping all of Cisco’s UCS efforts is expanding the role of virtualization. Rob Lloyd, an executive vice president with the company, explained during the launch event that the UCS is an expansion of the Data Center 3.0 plan.

Lloyd noted that as a result, the UCS will help enterprises to recognize the full vision of virtualization, which extends beyond just server virtualization. In connection with technology from partner VMware, the UCS offerings can provide enhanced scalability, manageability and virtual environment performance, Cisco said.

“What we’re talking about is how to bring virtualization to life,” Chambers said.

Chambers claimed that the Cisco UCS system can enable data centers to reduce both their capital and operational expenditures. He said that in Cisco test deployments to date, the UCS has been able to reduce capital expenditure by at least 20 percent.

The Data Center of the Future

According to Chambers, the launch of UCS is the third step in a five-step process toward evolving the data center. The first step was data center networking which Cisco has been doing for years, while the second is unified fabric, which Cisco started to push in 2008 with the Nexus platform.

Moving beyond the UCS, Chambers said the next step is moving toward private clouds and after that toward enabling inter-cloud networking.

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