Cisco’s Blades Might Cut Both Ways

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Cisco’s Unified Computing System could be a chance for IT departments looking to rebuild their data centres in the rubble of the recession – but there will be upfront costs, warns Cameron Sturdevant

Cisco Systems is rolling out an ambitious data centre strategy, dubbed the Unified Computing System, and at the heart of it will be new Cisco blade servers, virtualisation, and the company’s recently launched Nexus family of switches.

This set of technology makes up a bid to revolutionise the way the data centre operates. The Nexus switches have been welded together with protocols like FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet), and a significant collection of top-tier partners, to create an initiative which will lower data centre capital and operational costs, according to Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers, speaking at the launch in San Jose, California.

The Nexus 7000, introduced last year, is a 10 GbE (Gigabit Ethernet) system that Cisco hopes will become the heart of the data centre, with a “wire once” approach that reduces operational costs by putting compute, virtualisation and storage access on a single platform. It’s a compelling technology that competitors, including Juniper Networks, are meeting with new data centre products – also announced at the beginning of March.

IT managers who believe data centre server virtualisation and storage access will help their business should look seriously at the Unified Computing System. However, based on briefings I’ve had with Cisco and in looking at the company’s other 10 GbE products, it is clear that getting in on the new platform will require a significant upfront cost.

The new equipment and services—while said to be compatible with existing infrastructure—are intended to be the next generation of data centre equipment, unencumbered by Cisco’s Catalyst routers and switches.

The recession currently engulfing the world economy was top of mind at the launch event. This same turmoil may provide an opportunity for IT managers to implement the Unified Computing System. As surviving companies pick up assets of failed competitors, the opportunity to build out a “greenfield” data centre environment can be an option. Since the UCS will likely work best in those medium to large enterprise organizations that Cisco sees as the target audience for the technology, this greenfield option is a viable alternative to a status quo data centre.

eWEEK Labs will be looking at the Cisco UCS in detail over the next several months to provide greater detail about how well the system components deliver on the claims made at the announcement.

Labs Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at