Cisco Updates UCS, Data Center Portfolio

Cisco on Tuesday updated its data center infrastructure, virtualization capabilities and its UCS technology with new servers, network connectivity, storage and fabric management.

Cisco refreshed its data center technology, which ties server, storage, and networking into a single Unified Computing System, or UCS, as well as stand-alone products for heterogeneous physical and virtualized data center environments.

The centerpiece of what Cisco calls its Data Center 3.0 strategy is UCS, upon which the company is looking to help customers build virtualized data centers, said Paul Durzan, director of unified computing at Cisco.

"We want to make sure that as data centers move toward virtualization, they are ready," Durzan said.

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To push that move faster, Cisco introduced a new Fabric Extender for UCS. That Fabric Extender, or FEXlink, extends the Cisco Nexus 5000 switch into Cisco's blade server chassis to eliminate the need for an actual switch inside the chassis, Durzan said.

With the updated FEXlink, scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter, the bandwidth of the individual blade servers inside the Cisco chassis will be quadrupled to 160 Gbps.

Cisco also refreshed its blade servers with new Intel processors. The company upgraded two existing two-socket blade servers and three two-socket rack-mount servers with the Intel Xeon 5600 "Westmere" processor. "The earlier versions of these servers will go end-of-life soon because the 5600 processors are coming in at an aggressive price," Durzan said.

It also introduced a new blade server and a new rack-mount server based on Intel's new 8-core Xeon 7500 "Nehalem-EX" processors, which Intel officially unveiled last week.

The new B440 M1 blade server has four processor sockets and room for four hard drives and 32 memory DIMMs. The new 4U C460 M1 rack-mount server has four sockets and space for up to 12 hard drives and 64 DIMMs. Both are scheduled to ship this summer.

Next: Cisco Enhances UCS Portfolio

Cisco is also enhancing its UCS portfolio with new 8-Gbps Fibre Channel uplinks.

Cisco also updated its Virtual Interface Card, or VIC, which now allows up to 128 virtual Ethernet or Fibre Channel ports to be connected to virtual servers, Durzan said.

Also new are enhancements to its UCS Manager software, including full integration with all the major provisioning tools from vendors such as BMC Software, CA, EMC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Symantec and VMware.

Partners and customers of Cisco also now have access to open APIs and to a developer network including a software development kit, and more than 9,000 objects for integrating UCS Manager into their environments, Durzan said.

New to UCS Manager is the ability to collect a server's states, I/O and policies into a service profile that can be duplicated and downloaded into a new server without the need for manual provisioning.

Cisco also unveiled a new generation of its Nexus 2000 switches, which provide up to 384 10-Gbit Ethernet or 576 1-Gbit Ethernet ports. The switches, which bring 10-Gbit Ethernet pricing down to under $300 per port, can be used to upgrade existing data center environments, Durzan said.

Also new is the MDS 9148 Fibre Channel switch with 8-Gbit Fibre Channel connectivity, as well as 8-Gbit options for existing Cisco switches and UCS products.

Todd Brannon, senior manager of data center product marketing at Cisco, said the company refreshed its UCS product line after only a year on the market in order to take advantage of the latest technology.

"As Intel introduced their new technology, every systems vendor is moving on it," Brannon said. "It's not limited to Cisco; it just happened to be that UCS was at the one-year mark."

Next: Working With The Channel To Get UCS To Customers

Brannon said that Cisco as of February had about 400 UCS customers, and that the company has taken its time about expanding its market through its solution provider partners.

"As [partners are] talking to customers about deploying UCS, they can say, 'Here it is in new and improved strength,'" he said. "One of the biggest things that's going to be important is the professional certification offerings, which include a track for architects and a track for support."

About 90 percent of Cisco's UCS product is sold through Cisco's channel partners, including more than 200 UCS Advanced Technology Partner (ATP)-certified solution providers and more than 300 other data center partners worldwide, said John Growdon, director for go-to-market worldwide channels at Cisco.

"Ultimately, we're moving to create UCS practices in our partner community," Growdon said. "From switching and across many of our product lines, we look at how they meld together here with UCS. [VARs] can differentiate themselves significantly and deliver value in the data center."

Cisco has done a good job in developing its UCS product line, but has yet to reach the point where customers are adopting it for mission-critical environments, said Marc Franz, national sales director of EMC and VMware solutions at FusionStorm, a San Francisco-based solution provider and partner to both Cisco and HP.

"I'm still very hesitant when it comes to mission-critical environments," Franz said. "Maybe I'm conservative, but I'd like to see it out there in production environments for a year or two."

However, Cisco has done things with how UCS uses memory and interfaces with data center fabric that show huge potential going forward, Franz said.

"They're going to give HP a run for the money," he said. "But right now, with the price and comfort level customers have with HP, 99 percent of our blade server installs are going out with HP blades."

For Houston-based INX, a virtualization and storage solution provider that only started working with servers when it signed on with Cisco UCS, that company's technology has already proven itself.

Steve Kaplan, vice president of data center virtualization practices at INX, said his company runs on the UCS infrastructure, and that some customers are already running their entire data centers with UCS.

"We're comfortable with it," he said. "Some organizations are slower than others to deploy the technology. But once they see the advantage of a virtualized data center, it's easier to get comfortable with UCS."

Chad Berndtson contributed to this article.