Cisco Pushes Benefits Of UCS System


The event comes just days after Sun introduced its own Open Network Systems initiative, and while HP is looking to broaden its Adaptive Infrastructure offering

With competition rapidly increasing in the unified data center space, Cisco Systems officials are trying to separate Cisco’s offerings from those of its rivals and answer criticisms about Cisco’s Unified Computing System platform.

During an hour-long Webcast on 16 April, two Cisco executives outlined the innovation and cost savings that have gone into the UCS initiative. Soni Jiandani, vice president of marketing for Cisco’s Server Access and Virtualization Group, and David Lawler, product marketing manager for the same business unit, pushed aside rivals’ assertions that the Cisco plan is too expensive, doesn’t scale and requires a drastic overhaul of the data centre.

“The system does scale,” Lawler said at one point during the event. “That was the way this was architected from Day One.”

Earlier in the day, Cisco announced that it was partnering with NetApp to offer solutions based on the UCS and NetApp’s Unified Storage Architecture.

Top technology vendors, including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, are rolling out solutions designed to unify the disparate server, storage and networking tiers in traditional data centres as businesses look for greater agility and cost efficiency from their computing facilities. Fueling much of the trend is the increased use of virtualisation technology, which can help cut some costs but also adds complexity to the data centre environment.

Cisco March 16 rolled out its UCS plan, which centered around its own branded blade servers powered by Intel’s new Xeon 5500 series chips, aka “Nehalem EP,” innovations that the company has introduced, and partnerships with the likes of VMware, EMC, Intel and QLogic.

Jiandani said Cisco’s ideas for UCS were driven in large part by the demands of customers, who were looking for ways to improve data centre performance—including the ability to scale—while reducing expenses.

“We wanted to embrace innovation while driving down costs,” she said.

Key to the Cisco innovations was the creation of the Cisco Memory Extension technology, which works with the new Intel “Nehalem” architecture to optimise memory capabilities within blade servers, which is important in virtualised environments, Lawler said. A problem was that while the CPUs were increasing in power, memory was not keeping up, which limited performance gains.

“Customers were telling us they were running out of memory before they were running out of CPU [capacity],” he said. “They were underutilising the CPU. Intel had gone from a single core to quad-cores in four years, but the memory was not keeping up.”

The Cisco Memory Extension technology increases by four the number of DIMMs (dual in-line memory modules) each Xeon 5500 processor can address, Lawler said. So rather than having 96GB to 144GB of available memory per system, the Cisco technology enables the UCS to support 384GB, he said. The result is a 33 to 60 percent savings in memory costs.

It also means up to four times more virtual machines per physical server, which leads to lower power, cooling and cost per VM, he said.

Lawler and Jiandani also highlighted Cisco’s VN-Link technology, which they said gives IT administrators better visibility into their virtualised environments, and the embedded management capabilities in the systems, which leads to cost savings in management software expenses.

Jiandani stressed the cost savings in the Cisco offering, saying compared to a four-socket, 256GB rack system, a UCS offering can save 40 percent on capital expenses, 19 percent in power and cooling costs over three years, 86 percent in cabling, and 61 percent in rack space.

Lawler also said Cisco was working on an SDK (software development kit) for the UCS to be released soon that will help partners integrate their solutions into the UCS.

Officials with both Sun and HP have been critical of Cisco’s strategy, arguing that it is closed and proprietary and requires an overhaul of a business’ existing data center technology to implement.

Comparing UCS with Sun’s Open Network Systems strategy, John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun’s Systems Group, April 13 argued that Cisco’s program was not as open as Sun’s. The Sun plan also relies heavily on Intel’s Xeon 5500 series, as well as its own innovations and initiatives around power, cooling, virtualization and the use of flash memory.

Executives with HP, which has its own Adaptive Infrastructure initiative that is tied together with HP’s Virtual Connect technology, have made similar claims about Cisco’s UCS program.

During the Webcast, Jiandani and Lawler said Cisco’s strategy relies on standard technologies such as Intel chips, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and Windows and Linux operating systems; that its embedded management software works with the other popular management solutions offered by competitors; and that it can work with legacy systems already in the data center.

In the announced partnership with NetApp, the two companies will work on storage solutions for the UCS, officials said. Through the Cisco Validated Design program, NetApp solutions will be tested for interoperability in virtualized data centers. Cisco and NetApp will also partner on joint marketing and customer support initiatives.

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