Will be aimed at mid-sized companies’ data centres or branches, and priced starting at just under US$20,000

If Apple can have a iPad mini and Samsung a Galaxy Mini smart phone, why can’t there be a mini server?

Now there is one, albeit one that starts at just under US$20,000.

Cisco Systems unveiled the UCS Mini on Thursday, the least expensive of its data centre-oriented unified computing server line.

The idea is to take the computing power of a UCS system and bring it to branches, remote sites or even to power the data centres of mid-sized companies.

“When the Americans talk about (the Mini) they say it’s good for retail sites,” Damian Serjeant, Cisco Canada’s general manager of data centre products, said in an interview.

“But 80 to 90 per cent of our customers (here) are mid-market … so I see it as almost primary for some of our customers. This is really going to change the game for us in Canada and open up a lot of net new opportunities for us.”

Cisco also announced a new M series of UCS servers, aimed largely at service providers.

The UCS Mini is a 6RU chassis that holds eight standard UCS blades with Intel XeonE5-2609 v2 processors. A chassis can also connect to seven UCS C-series rack servers if more power is needed.

The back of a Cisco UCS Mini server
The back of a Cisco UCS Mini server

The Mini is basically a UCS B-series 5108 chassis, which needs extra top of rack 48 or 64 port fabric interconnects. But, Serjeant said, it was priced too high for SMBs — at least US$45,000.

“Now what we’ve done (with the UCS Mini) is embedded these fabric interconnects into the actual chassis, same 6RU form factor, that allows customers a much cheaper cost of entry than before.”

The UCS Manager software is embedded into the fabric interconnects and can manage up to 160 servers, with remote management from UCS Central.

Depending on how the Mini is configured, it will run from US$20,000 to $25,000.

“We can still go after that Tier 1 computing platform, but now we can go after some of that space where we have traditionally not done well before. Quite frankly, customers when I’ve spoken with them say the perception is Cisco is too costly. Now we’re coming to the market with something that’s relevant.”

In Canada, Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] is number two in x86 blade server sales, Serjeant said, behind Hewlett-Packard. “I plan to capture the number one spot within the next 12 to 18 months,” he added.

The new M-series is a 2U modular server targeting service providers, big data and grid computing workloads. Each server has eight cartridges, Each cartridge has two independent Intel Xeon E3 processor nodes, so a fully loaded rack server has 16 servers.

Cisco's new M4308  server
Cisco’s new M4308 server

It can be equipped with four shared solid state hard drives, shared dual 40 GB connectivity, redundant fans and power supplies. For added storage, it can be linked to a C3160 4U-sized rack server with up to 360 TB of capacity for data analytics.

An 80-node deployment will cost around US$263,800.

With IBM selling its x86 server line to Lenovo (expected to close before the end of the year), Serjeant said the M-series will be a way to pick up market share.

Serjeant said Cisco’s reseller/system integrator partners will have servers for customer demos.

Richard Fischera, principal data centre architecture analyst at Forrester Research, said in an interview that the two new servers fill niches in Cisco’s UCS lineup, which until now has been aimed at Fortune 5000 companies. Since UCS was introduced five years ago it has been “tremendously successful,” he said, the only weak spot has been the entry price. Cisco aims to fix that with the Mini by reducing some of the networking components.

IBM and Hewlett-Packard, he added, have done something similar with their x86 systems to drop prices for SMBs.

“The unknown is how successfully Cisco can move this through their (resller) channels,” Fischera said. But he noted that UCS has been a good seller in large mid-sized companies. Given that most Canadian organizations are SMBs, “this is probably a good thing for the Canadian market.”

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