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In addition to the new gear, Cisco will also launch an Authorized Technology Partner Program (ATP) around Unified Computing. Currently, Cisco said it has 250 data center specialized partners, 75 percent of which focus heavily on virtualization, servers and storage, said John Growdon, director of go to market for Cisco worldwide channels. Growdon said roughly 30 to 50 of those partners will be brought into the ATP in its initial launch, with the program opening to more partners soon.
Rob Lloyd, executive vice president designate of worldwide operations for Cisco, said more details of the Unified Computing Systems configurations and solutions will emerge over the coming weeks. Exact availability dates and pricing models were not released on Monday.
"You can't think of this as a blade or a network ... it's a system," Lloyd said, adding the Unified Computing System will be shipped and configured as a single system, not as stand-alone products.
Mario Mazzola, senior vice president of Cisco's server access and virtualization business unit, agreed.
"We don't look at this announcement as a specific product, like a blade server," he said. "We don't think in terms of chassis. We think in terms of global reach."
Unified computing is the third phase in Cisco's five-phased approach to the data center, which started with the first phase of data center networking nearly a decade ago and evolved into the second phase of a unified fabric last year. The fourth and fifth phases will focus on cloud computing, namely private clouds and inter clouds, respectively, Chambers said.
And while the Unified Computing System is central to Cisco's vision for next-generation virtualized data centers, Cisco on Monday also joined forces with what Chambers called a "world class ecosystem" of technology partners to fulfill that vision. Partners like Accenture, BMC Software, EMC, Intel, Microsoft, NetApp, Red Hat, VMware and a host of others will contribute as UCS evolves.
Technology partners, like VMware, hope the Unified Computing strategy and their contributions facilitate and accelerate virtualizations, increasing typical virtualization utilization beyond the current level of about 30 percent.
"Get people off the dime and accelerate the trend to large-scale virtualization," said VMware CEO Paul Maritz. "There will no longer be any reason you can't take any load in the data center or in the cloud and give it the benefit of virtualization."
Zeki Yasar, enterprise consultant at ePlus, a Herndon, Va.-based solution provider, said Cisco is providing some very interesting technology that, rather than addressing server technology as a whole, instead addresses a hole in how virtual technology is brought into a unified environment.
"A lot of people who are doing virtualization are not bringing it into their production environments because of latency and overhead issues," Yasar said. "Virtualization has addressed some core applications, but not things like databases."
Yasar, who has been quietly working with Cisco's Unified Computing System for some time, said Cisco is bringing hardware-assisted virtualization to the unified computing stack.
"It's expanding virtualization into not only the processors, but also into the entire Cisco platform," he said. "Now enterprise services like databases that don't fly in a virtual environment because of performance issues now can do so. So people who are not deploying virtual infrastructures because they couldn't get the full ability to do all the software services can do it now."
Keith Norbie, director of the storage division of Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider and partner to both Cisco and VMware, said that, while his company sells a lot of Cisco products, it sees a number of challenges ahead as Cisco moves into a new business.
"The biggest challenge for Cisco is, what's their credibility in this space?" Norbie said. "Who's going to be the first to sell a Cisco server? If it's on the VMware HCL (hardware compatibility list), it might work."
Cisco, by reaching beyond the natural evolution of its core business, does run the risk of overreaching while protecting its existing business from competitors eager to see it fall, Norbie said.
For instance, Norbie said, even as Cisco is reaching into the server market, companies like Juniper Networks are pecking away at its networking market, F5 at its application delivery networking market, Riverbed at WAN optimization, and Checkpoint at firewalls.
Norbie also said Cisco, by reaching too far outside its core business, risks an identity crisis. "It's like Michael Jordon playing baseball," he said, referring to Jordan's temporary retirement from professional basketball to play minor league baseball in the mid-1990s.