Cisco Unified Computing - the analysts' verdict

Cisco Systems' new Unified Computing System may herald a new way for IT to buy servers, storage, and networking hardware.


Cisco Systems' new Unified Computing System may herald a new way for IT to buy servers, storage, and networking hardware.

Cisco’s Unified Computing System, launched on Monday, comprises a blade server, network, storage access, and virtualisation resources in a single rackable system -- all of which the company claims help customers achieve "next-generation datacentres."

The Unified Computing System comes out of what Cisco called a "joined at the chip" partnership with Intel.

"Cisco is differentiating itself in the systems market space, with a blade server and fabric interconnect as a single integrated management domain. Cisco is attempting to use virtualisation to break up the traditional server architecture by recombining it with networking technologies," analyst firm Gartner explained in a report.

A transition in the way IT shops purchase servers, storage, and networking hardware may already have been underway. In recent years, large IT shops have begun buying in "pods," or discrete racks of servers and storage systems configured for certain operating systems and classes of applications.

Gartner has been calling this trend toward modular, building-block datacentre fabrics "tera-architectures" since 2004, according to Andrew Butler, the research firm's distinguished analyst and vice president. Since then virtualisation has become endemic, Butler added.

"A fabric-based architecture that brings the server, storage, and network components closer together will be very well positioned to leverage both trends," he explained.

Working across server, storage, and networking units with a single customer also means that Cisco's Unified Computing System will likely carry a larger price tag which, in turn, requires the involvement of more IT staff with buying power -- possibly the CIO. So UCS just might give Cisco a way into hardware purchasing decisions that it did not have before.

But Cisco is not the only one there. Long-time partners-cum-competitors Dell, HP, and IBM also team up with Microsoft and VMware, meaning they can match Cisco's intentions for servers and storage.

"Cisco is betting that UCS's technological differences will beat the competition. But to displace an incumbent vendor like HP, these features must also be price competitive and offer value, as the server market is driven by price and ... that is lower than Cisco's norm," Gartner said in its report.

Forrester Research principal analyst Galen Schreck sees the move as defensive on Cisco's part. "It was necessary because there's been a collision of servers and networking. People are buying HP blades with networking consolidated in them. What would be left for Cisco in that universe?" Schreck adds that Cisco's approach is "a bit more elegant."

Cisco lined up some impressive partners to join it on Monday including Accenture for consulting services, BMC, EMC, Microsoft, and VMware. What remains to be seen is whether Cisco can maintain such an ecosystem, IDC said. "Broader adoption will require tighter integration with existing datacentre frameworks," according to the research firm.

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