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Cisco Prepping 'Mini-UCS' Servers To Go Low Where UCS Can't: Sources

Multiple channel sources tell CRN that Cisco will soon launch a smaller version of Cisco's UCS servers targeting remote offices/branch offices, hyper-converged infrastructure, or hyper-scale data center environments.

Cisco Systems appears getting ready to launch a more entry-level version of its UCS server line, giving the vendor a new tool for expanding its server business and possibly for entering the fast-growing hyper-converged infrastructure market.

According to multiple channel sources who talked to CRN on condition of anonymity, Cisco seems to be preparing a quiet launch of what has been termed the "mini-UCS," possibly in the next couple of weeks, with a full launch planned for either during or around the VMworld 2014 conference in late August.

Cisco declined to discuss plans, if any, around the mini-UCS, with a spokesperson responding via email to a CRN query that the company "can’t talk about products that have not been released yet."

[Related: Gartner Converged Infrastructure 'Magic Quadrant:' Nutanix Top Visionary, VCE Overall Leader]

Solution providers who partner with Cisco told CRN that the time is ripe for Cisco to offer a mini-UCS server product line.

Cisco is currently the fastest-growing server vendor. IDC in late May put Cisco in a three-way tie for fourth place in terms of worldwide server revenue due to a 37 percent growth spurt in the first quarter of 2014 compared with the same period last year. Cisco is also the top blade server vendor in North America by revenue, IDC reported.

However, solution providers said, Cisco does not have an entry-level offering, making this a greenfield play for growth for the San Jose, Calif., company.

Beyond just expanding its business into the entry-level server market, Cisco also has a number of options where a mini-UCS server line could help the company grab market share.

One obvious move would be to build a hyper-converged infrastructure solution combining the mini-UCS server, Cisco's networking technology and Cisco's Invicta storage technology that would let it compete with such companies as Nutanix or SimpliVity , one solution provider told CRN on condition of anonymity.

If so, Cisco would likely either be teaming up or competing against its long-term converged infrastructure partners EMC and VMware, as VMware appears poised in August to unveil its own hyper-converged infrastructure solution code-named "Project Marvin."

Also entering the fray is Dell, which is partnering with Nutanix to OEM that company's software for Dell servers to build hyper-converged infrastructure appliances.

"Cisco is already working with NetApp in FlexPod and with EMC in VSPEX reference architectures at the midrange to high end," the solution provider said. "At the low end, the mini-UCS could be a defense play against SimpliVity and Nutanix."

NEXT: Other Potential Mini-UCS Targets


Cisco also could be looking to target the remote office and branch office, or ROBO, market, solution providers said.

Another solution provider told CRN on condition of anonymity that the mini-UCS probably does not have a lot of space for internal storage drives, but it does seem to have a different architecture which would make it useful in ROBO solutions.

"It seems to be using Cisco's Fabric Interconnects in place of Cisco's FEX [Fabric Extender] technology," the solution provider said. "The Cisco Fabric Interconnects has a larger feature set, which would be more useful in an all-in-one enclosure and would give the servers a smaller footprint than UCS."

A Cisco mini-UCS also could help Cisco grab business from original device manufacturers (ODMs) in the fast-growing hyper-scale data center environments, solution providers said.

IDC estimates that in the first quarter of 2014, ODM direct server vendors' revenue grew 75.4 percent over the prior year's revenue, making it the fastest-growing part of the server business.

A third solution provider told CRN anonymously that Cisco is tired of getting beat up in accounts being taken by white-box server vendors.

"The mini-UCS could be a small-form-factor server with Invicta storage for hyper-scale data center environments," the solution provider said. "Cisco can't get business in the big service providers with UCS. It would have to go white-box, with more 'vanilla' servers. That affects Cisco's ability to do server and networking in that part of the market."

That is an essential part of the market for Cisco's future server growth, the first solution provider said.

"Hyper-scale matters," the solution provider said. "Amazon is running more virtual machines than VMware has sold. Facebook and Google buy more disks than EMC and NetApp do. What happens in the hyper-scale environment eventually filters down to the enterprise, and then to SMBs, over time. UCS today can't work in hyper-scale environments."

The solution provider said it would be great to see Cisco make other bold moves to support growth of its hardware business, including servers.

"If I were [Cisco CEO John] Chambers, I would look at acquiring Red Hat," he said. "Cisco is moving towards open source. Red Hat would give them programming languages and an operating system. If you believe in a software-defined world, it would be the way to go. I would love to see Cisco do something bold like that. VMware is doing it, building a software-defined stack. If Cisco did it, it would lose nothing, but could really gain."

PUBLISHED JUNE 25, 2014

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