Cisco Systems is getting ready to seed the channel with its "Project California" Unified Computing System (UCS) technology, and partners say the vendor has a real opportunity to shake up the way data centers are built.
Cisco in March unveiled its UCS strategy, which seeks to combine server, storage, virtualization and networking capabilities in an integrated package that the company said will make data centers more flexible, efficient and cost-effective.
A number of Cisco partners are gearing up for the release of the vendor's UCS platform, expected sometime in June.
EPlus, a Herndon, Va.-based solution provider, expects to get one of the first production units of the UCS in June, said Zeki Yasar, enterprise consultant at ePlus.
EPlus already is doing a lot of joint calls to data center customers with Cisco, Yasar said. "We've been training each other on it," he said.
Cisco is trying to launch its UCS in an intelligent manner by not going directly against Hewlett-Packard or IBM from the start, Yasar said.
"They want to work with happy Cisco customers," he said. "Many data center customers are die-hard HP or IBM people. So instead of going into a price war, Cisco is going a less political route."
Yasar warned that Cisco will need to sign some initial deals quickly or risk losing momentum. "They won't get into political battles," he said. "They don't want to squander those initial deals."
UCS can replace a lot of existing infrastructure in customers' data centers, if for no other reason than the power savings customers can get as a result of taking out older generation equipment, Yasar said.
"A company like HP has been selling third, fourth, fifth, sixth generations of its products," he said. "But UCS only has to replace a couple older generations of equipment to be a big power saver for customers. For replacing newer equipment, there's definitely an ROI. But it's a tougher sell."
GlassHouse Technologies, a Framingham, Mass.-based IT consultancy in which Cisco made an equity investment, has been working with Cisco on the UCS for about a year.
Mark Shirman, GlassHouse president and CEO, said that Cisco has licensed some of his company's intellectual property related to data center methodologies and tools for part of the UCS rollout.
That rollout has the potential to be very disruptive to the way customers build data centers today as well as to the business model of companies such as IBM and HP, Shirman said.
"Cisco has the chance to do it," he said. "Cisco is well thought of in customer data centers. Customers will give it a chance. Whether they will throw out their entire infrastructure for UCS or not, I don't know. But Cisco will get its at-bat time."
Cisco is targeting what Shirman termed the "super enterprise" customers, including large banks and financial institutions where he said the UCS message about ROI is very compelling.
"That ROI includes reduction in cap ex [capital expense] and how savings flow from there," he said. "Customers will be able to cut licensing, hardware, power and cooling costs. These are real savings."
John Berrett, national technical architect at World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based solution provider, said his company was the first channel partner to be certified as a UCS Advanced Technology Program partner.
"We'll probably get our first purchase order for UCS early in the next quarter," Berrett said. "Customers are looking at UCS to replace some of their existing equipment."
Cisco, which next week is holding its annual partner summit in Boston, declined to comment on the story, other than to reiterate its previous stance that it is launching an Advanced Technology Group around UCS, starting with a subset of between 30 and 50 data center specialized partners, and that it plans to launch new data center architect and data center engineer certifications and additional training for the UCS.