Cisco To Unveil Unified Computing Strategy

Cisco, which has been expected to announce its move into the server market for some time, has scheduled an event for Monday, March 16, at which time it will explain its unified computing architecture, a Cisco spokesperson confirmed.

Cisco has declined to unveil specifics about its move into the server space or whether it will even start offering some type of server products. Speculation from several sources is that the company is planning to offer some sort of blade server architecture tied into its networking technology and topped off with server virtualization technology.

Padmasree Warrior, Cisco CTO, in a blog in January, and followed by a video the following month, described a broad outline of unified computing.

Warrior said that unified computing links all center resources into a common architecture that will reduce the barrier to entry for virtualization of the data center.

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"In other words, the compute and storage platform is architecturally 'unified' with the network and the virtualization platform," she wrote.

In an interview with about Cisco's unified computing vision, Doug Gourlay, director of product management for Cisco's Data Center Solutions, said Cisco is going to rely on a string of high-profile technology partnerships to fulfill its plans for unified computing.

Gourlay wouldn't name specific partners that Cisco has planned, but said the list of partners would include some of the biggest vendors in the data center and virtualization space. "This is not a go-it-alone," he said.

When asked to name which partners will be involved, Gourlay said he couldn't divulge them until March 16, likely referring to a Cisco event planned for that day, which will feature CEO John Chambers and "several industry-leading partners" discussing Cisco's unified computing vision and the evolution of the data center.

Gourlay added that Cisco's unified computing architecture will be an ecosystem of partners, proving it "can be done without M&A." Cisco is already partnered with VMware on a handful of products, including the Cisco Nexus 1000V, a virtual switch that ties together virtual machines in a data center.

Cisco's potential competitors in the server market say they expect its entry to pose little potential impact to their businesses.

Tom Bradicich, IBM fellow and vice president of systems technology, called Cisco a formidable and great company.

"But them entering the server business reminds me of Michael Jordon getting into the baseball business," Bradicich said.

Bradicich said IBM, like Cisco, sees some sort of hybrid computing platform that includes general-purpose servers, technology for virtualizing applications and securing data, new compute-intensive applications and a networking subsystem as the future of servers going forward.

"As one processes the data, it's also important to look at how fast it can move," he said. "It's not valuable to predict the weather tomorrow if it takes a week to get the information."

Jim Ganthier, director of BladeSystem Marketing in Hewlett-Packard's Enterprise Storage and Servers Division, said that servers will not only continue to get faster, but they will not be viewed as islands of processing. Instead, Ganthier said, servers will be more flexible, modular and scalable, and part of integrated systems.

As a result, instead of focusing on what is the next processor, customers are starting to demand that their data centers will help them with their assets, Ganthier said.

"It will lead to huge changes in the way servers will be done," he said. "The next level of integration? We're way beyond that. People should be asking for quantum changes. We need to look at what we are doing for storage, power, cooling and management."

Andrew Hickey contributed to this article.