Cisco UCS Five Years Later: Partners Still Seeing 'Tremendous Growth'

Five years after the launch of Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS), Cisco and its partners say the growth they see around the converged infrastructure system is showing no signs of slowing down.

"The growth around UCS has really been tremendous," said Waheed Choudhry, president and chief operating offer of Nexus IS, a Valencia, Calif.-based Cisco Gold partner. "The appetite of customers for that unified architecture, and how UCS fits into that architecture, is really great."

Choudhry, who participated in a Cisco UCS partner panel on Monday at the 2014 Cisco Partner Summit in Las Vegas, said the growth Nexus has seen around UCS has been "phenomenal," with sales in 2013 having shot up 60 percent year over year.

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The panel, which also included executives from Cisco partners ECCOM, World Wide Technology and Logicalis, was held in celebration of the five-year anniversary of UCS, which made its debut in March 2009. Cisco also marked UCS' five-year anniversary with the launch of a new line of Nexus data center switches, including the Nexus 9504, Nexus 9516 and Nexus 3164Q for cloud providers.

At the initial launch of UCS, some industry-watchers and Cisco rivals were skeptical of Cisco's ability to compete in the blade server market, where it was a new-comer going head-to-head with incumbents like Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM.

"There was Cisco, March, 2009, not just announcing a new router or new switch or a new communications product, but really announcing compute and server in a whole new market space that had very crowded competitors and companies that had been in the compute business for 30, 40 years when you talk about the HPs and IBMs in the world," said Frank Palumbo, senior vice president of data center sales at Cisco.

But, fast forward five years, and Cisco says it's proved it can hold its own. There are currently 30,000 UCS customers around the world, according to San Jose-based networking giant, with more than 75 percent of the Fortune 500 companies having invested in the product. Cisco's UCS business over the past five years has grown to $2.2 billion, and its data center business, in general, grew 10 percent year-over-year in its most recent fiscal quarter.

Market analyst firm IDC also reported last year that Cisco now claims the No. 2 in the x86 blade server market, second only to market leader HP.

NEXT: UCS Growth For Partners

Cisco partners, meanwhile, say they are seeing similar growth within their own UCS businesses.

"Since the day we selected [UCS] until today, our data center Cisco sales have gone up year on year on year, and organically, not through the acquisition of other data center partners," said Chris Gabriel, Chief Technology Officer at global systems integrator and Cisco Gold partner Logicalis. "And, every year, the deal size around UCS goes up."

Cisco partners like Gabriel and Choudhry attributed UCS' success to the fact that it lets customers manage their networking, compute, storage and virtualization environments from a single pane of glass, driving down costs and simplifying the management of their infrastructures. What's more, they said the synergies between UCS and other converged infrastructure offerings, such as FlexPod, VSPEX and vBlocks, has been a win with customers.

Looking ahead, Cisco partners say they are confident that their UCS businesses will continue to thrive, especially in light of recent updates to the product, such as the integration of flash storage from Cisco's 2013 acquisition of storage vendor Whiptail.

Cisco in January re-introduced the Whiptail technology under a new brand called Invicta, and said the all-flash storage would allow the UCS platform to better support the deployment of new, data-hungry applications, such as those being created around trends like big data and the Internet of Things.

In addition to Invicta, Cisco said it's working to integrate its new Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) software-defined networking platform into UCS, with the aim of letting users control ACI, Invicta and all other UCS components from the UCS Director management portal.

"[Cisco] is continuing to fulfill on this vision of a network architecture that can be controlled centrally and speed the delivery of applications to the environment, really enabling customers to operate at the speed of cloud," said Choudhry. "ACI [with UCS] is another step in the fulfillment of that vision."

Cisco continued to bolster its data center portfolio Monday with the launch of its new Nexus 4-slot 9504, 16-slot 9516 and the new 3164Q switch designed specifically for cloud service providers. All three switches, Cisco said, are 40 Gigabit, and are designed to work with big data, cloud and other data-intensive applications.

Cisco Monday said it has 3,800 partners selling UCS today and 2,000 partners holding a UCS specialization, representing a 25 percent increase over last year.