Cisco fleshes out unified computing product map

Cisco Systems Inc. this week announced it will ship three rackmount servers some time after September.

The servers are part of Unified Computing System (UCS), first announced in March. At the time, the San Jose, Calif. network equipment manufacturer announced it would ship a blade server, the B series, this month.

Cisco has not said how much it will charge for the C Series rackmount servers, but did release specifications. Based on Intel Corp.’s Xeon 5500 series processors, the UCS C 200 M1 is one rack unit in size with 96 GB of memory and includes four 3.5-inch SAS/SATA disk drives. The 210 M1 is two rack units, also with 96 GB of memory but with 16 SFF SAS/SATA drives. The C250, which has 384 GB of memory and eight SFF SAS/SATA drives, includes Cisco’s Extended Memory technology.

UCS is designed to tightly integrate computing, networking, storage access and virtualization into a single platform. It includes virtual adapters to reduce the number of physical adapters in a server; embedded management; and service profiles designed to stay with a VM as it moves around an enterprise.

Cisco says its Extended Memory is designed for virtual machine environments and large data sets.

“The key differentiator is the memory extension technology used to handle the (virtual machine) environment better,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president at the Yankee Group, a Boston-based market research firm.

Since the B Series was announced in March, Goldman Sachs surveyed nearly 100 IT executives at large companies, said Jackie Ross, vice-president of marketing for Cisco’s server access and virtualization group.

She said nearly two-thirds of respondents “expect to see” Cisco servers in their data centres in the next two to three years.

When Cisco announced UCS, she said journalists were asking a rhetorical question: “Are customers going to be willing evaluate another server vendor especially when you’re new to the market?”

“We’re very happy to see (the Goldman Sachs survey) results within the first couple of months of the UCS announcement,” she said.

Ross said UCS lets users define networking properties, such as quality of service, guaranteed bandwidth and security profiles for applications or virtual machine regardless of what physical server they are on.

“This is the first stand-alone server designed specifically for a (virtual machine) environment,” Kerravala said.

Though Cisco is new to the server market, Kerravala said the company is aiming at corporate buyers who are more senior than network operations staff.

“I think it’s the right strategy for them,” he said. “Virtualization has had a huge impact on IT departments. It’s now impacting the way the network operates.”

The technologies in Cisco UCS essentially rule out the participation of non-Cisco blade and rack servers in a UCS environment. Cisco has said previously that it has no plans to open up UCS to incumbent data center servers from HP, IBM, Dell or Sun.

Any plans to license the virtual adapter and memory extension technologies are null as well. Even though the C-Series rack servers will allow UCS to “reach out to the broad market,” Soni Jiandani, Cisco’s vice president of marketing for the server access virtualization group, evaded a question on multivendor server participation in UCS and technology licensing.

Asked during a virtual press conference if Cisco plans to open UCS to the broader market of multivendor blade and rack servers, and license the memory expansion and virtualized adapter technologies, Jiandani instead stressed the platform’s support for adapters from multiple vendors and “open” APIs for management integration. But later, in a one-on-one session, Jiandani said Cisco will not license UCS technologies and has no plans at present to have the platform support multivendor servers.

“Would Cisco license IOS?” she asked rhetorically. With regard to server support, she said, “Right now, we need to execute on helping our customers and we are heads-down focused on addressing needs across a broad segment of customers. [But we] never say never.”

Ross said Cisco is also creating two new certifications. One is for a data centre architect and the other is for data centre engineer. Both are intended for end users and systems integrators.

“There will be online and hands on components to this certification and we’re putting the emphasis on hands on training because these are new technologies,” she said.

With files from Jim Duffy and Matt Hamblem

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