Cisco Bets Big On Virtualization, Blade Servers

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After months of speculation, Cisco on Monday officially staked its claim to the blade server market, unveiling a server offering as part of its Unified Computing System, an architecture the San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant said will increase the use of virtualization in data centers.

But Cisco was quick to note that the Unified Computing System goes well beyond a typical blade server play. Instead, Cisco detailed a holistic approach and open eco-system to tie together servers, storage, networking and virtualization.

"This is the future of the data center," said Cisco CEO John Chambers, in an event unveiling the Unified Computing System on Monday. "It will evolve into clouds and change business models forever."

The Cisco Unified Computing System is a solution set that comprises a host of new Cisco products, along with a flurry of contributions from dozens of technology partners.

Chambers said the Unified Computing System will "bring together the compute power, the storage access and the networking capabilities" of the next-generation data center and facilitate Cisco's vision of accessing information from any device, any network, any location at any time.

The new architecture, which Cisco called a "wire once" unified fabric, can ultimately reduce IT infrastructure costs and complexity, while reducing capital expenditures by up to 20 percent and operational expenses by up to 30 percent compared to legacy data center systems, said Jackie Ross, vice president of Cisco's server and virtualization business unit.

The system will enable the building of next-generation data centers optimized for virtualized resources, Cisco said. As a single system, it is designed to ease data center management while also supporting a host of applications and services from leading partner vendors like BMC, EMC, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat and VMware.

Chambers said the system can provision applications "at the drop of a hat." And Ross added that all told the system can support more than 300 servers and thousands of virtual machines. It can also reduce the number of data center resources, like servers, switches, adapters and cables by up to 50 percent, which ultimately lowers power and cooling costs.

The Unified Computing System includes a host of new Cisco products, foremost two types of Cisco UCS B-Series Blade Servers, which are based on the upcoming Intel Nehalem processor. While specific details of the pending blade servers won't be released for a few weeks, Cisco said the servers adapt to new application demands, scale energy use and offer virtualization capabilities. Additional details are being held close to the vest until Intel's official Nehalem launch at the end of March.

Cisco said each blade server uses network adapters for access to the unified fabric and Cisco's "memory-expansion" technology can increase the memory footprint to boost performance and capacity for virtualization and large data set workloads. Cisco also unveiled the UCS 5100 Series Blade Server Chassis, which can support up to eight blade servers and up to two of Cisco's new fabric extenders in a 6RU enclosure without the need for additional management modules.

Along with releasing a blade server play, Cisco unveiled UCS 6100 Series Fabric Interconnects, a family of line-rate, low-latency lossless 10 Gbps Cisco Data Center Ethernet and Fibre Channel over Ethernet interconnect switches. The switches consolidate I/O within the system. The switches come in 20-port 1RU and 40-port 2RU version and accommodate expansion modules for Fibre Channel and/or 10 Gig E connectivity.

Other components of the Unified Computing System include Cisco UCS 2100 Series Fabric Extenders, which bring unified fabric into the blade-server chassis for up to 10 Gbps connections each between blades and the fabric interconnect, which can ease diagnostics, cabling and management and UCS Network Adapters, which are three types of adapters offered in a mezzanine-card format. The adapters are optimized for virtualization, compatibility with existing driver stacks, or efficient, high performance Ethernet.

Lastly, tying the entire system together, Cisco will release the Cisco UCS Manager, a centralized management console for the Unified Computing System. The UCS Manager is the embedded software that unifies the various components into a seamless, cohesive system. The UCS Manger offers a graphical user interface, a command line interface and an application programming interface to manage all Unified Communication System components and configurations.


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