More Blades, More Boost: Cisco Unveils UCS Offerings

Cisco Systems Tuesday made a number of product and services additions to its Unified Computing System data center portfolio, including a new blade server and a suite of services aimed at better management of virtual computing environments.

The big one is Unified Network Services (UNS), a suite of data center services designed to run in physical or virtual form factors. The first two releases under the UNS banner are the Virtual Security Gateway (VSG), a virtual appliance deployed on the Nexus 1000V and intended for assigning security policy across virtual LANs, and Virtual Wide Area Application Services (vWAAS), a virtual instance of Cisco's WAN optimization offering that runs on VMware ESX/ESXi hypervisors and Cisco's Unified Computing System, or UCS.

Both will be available in the fourth quarter and, according to Cisco, extend the networking titan's vision of making data center architecture as flexible as possible.

"What's unique about our approach to the data center is that you can take all this infrastructure and turn it on a dime," said Omar Sultan, senior solution manager for Cisco's Data Center Solutions Team. "We continue to have this opposable infrastructure that we can manipulate purely through software."

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Elsewhere in the bolstered data center portfolio are new Nexus products: the Nexus 5548, which is a 1 RU, 48-port switch; the Nexus Fabric Extender 2224TP, which combines with the Nexus 5000 or Nexus 7000 to vary the options for connectivity; and the Catalyst 6513-E chassis, which includes over 2 Terabit switching capacity; and Cisco's EnergyWise 2.0 and TrustSec baked into its Catalyst 4900 software. Availability is October, according to Cisco.

"Some of our competitors are still working on the first generation of their converged platform," said Kash Shaikh, senior manager, market management for data center switching, at Cisco. "We're already introducing the next generation of the series."

Next is a new blade server, the UCS B230 M1 Blade. It's an Intel Xeon 6500/7500-based system, and it brings the number of server offerings in Cisco's UCS and data center portfolio, including B-series and C-series servers, to eight.

"We fulfilled our promise to have a fully articulated variety of form factors," said Todd Brannon, senior manager of data center product marketing at Cisco.

Cisco has seen increasing interest in UCS development through the partners in its Cisco Developer Network, including some 40 ISVs that have embraced the UCS platform within the past year, Brannon said.

Among newer initiatives from the UCS team, Brannon noted, is a "developers sandbox," which can stage a UCS test environment for developers to use, allowing them to essentially trial-and-error their application development on a "test" UCS.

Finally, Cisco has added a number of new professional and technical services, including Cisco Desktop Virtualization Services, to go hand-in-hand with the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform it announced with Citrix earlier this month, and the expansion of Unified Compute Services to include more application performance and validation testing.

NEXT: The Growth of UCS In The Channel

Officially unveiled in March 2009, UCS has been a success for Cisco, which said it had more than 1,700 UCS customers worldwide as of its most recent quarterly earnings, up from 900 UCS customers the quarter before.

John Growdon, director of go-to-market worldwide channels at Cisco, said Cisco now has 200 Unified Computing Authorized Technology Provider (ATP) partners, with another 450 Cisco partners "on the journey."

For some Cisco solution providers, UCS success so far has followed a pattern.

According to Dave Hart, executive vice president and CTO of Presidio, a New York-based Cisco Gold partner, the biggest drivers of UCS adoption among Presidio's enterprise customers have been particular events that require a major data center overhaul, or existing familiarity with Cisco and one or more of its data center architecture partners on the storage and virtualization sides.

"We're not deploying a lot of UCS into what I'd call add-on environments," he said. "Maybe some of it here and there, but the people doing the preponderance of our production work [on UCS] are buying it wholesale."

Hart cited several particular scenarios where UCS has been especially appealing to customers.

"Maybe it's a rearchitecture of a mainline application that's going to require rehosting onto new infrastructure," Hart said. "Or, it's a customer who's just made a wholesale commitment on a physical to virtual migration and wants to get the benefits coming from a unified fabric and a unified compute solution."

Another compelling reason, Hart said, is that customers already deploying Nexus products, EMC storage or NetApp storage -- or some combination of data center products --find the jump to full-on UCS a logical move.

"In those cases, customers are just getting their feet wet and ready to add the other leg of the stool," Hart explained.

Cisco made a bet on UCS reaching customers that wanted to revamp their data center infrastructure for future demands, Hart said, and it appears to be paying off for the channel.

"From our perspective, it's the right way to think about a virtualized data center and private cloud infrastructure," Hart said. "The server and storage and the ability to communicate between the two helps you orchestrate all of that efficiently, in a way that's meaningful and scalable."