Cisco Unified Computing: Five Points Worth Noting
When Cisco Systems ships Unified Computing solutions this summer, BlueWater Communications intends to make a splash. The New York-based solutions provider will attend Cisco training seminars in April and May, and expects to receive Cisco’s first Unified Computing solutions in June or July. But that’s not all. During a TelePresence meeting with The VAR Guy on March 20, Cisco and BlueWater executives pulled back the curtain a bit further on Unified Computing.
The hour-long briefing for The VAR Guy featured Norman Egan, a senior systems architect at BlueWater, and Jackie Ross, VP of marketing for server access and virtualization at Cisco.
In case you missed Cisco’s March 16 announcement, the Unified Computing System claims to unify network, compute, storage access, and virtualization resources in a single system. (John Growdon from Cisco Worldwide Channels offers details for partners in this podcast.)
A Matter of Debate
Cisco says the Unified Computing System is a game-changer that empowers partners and saves customers money. Rivals allege Unified Computing could be a closed, expensive alternative to industry standard options.
Seeking more info, The VAR Guy visited Cisco’s Manhattan office on March 20. Only, this wasn’t your typical Cisco briefing: Egan attended as a guest of The VAR Guy and served as the wild-card in the room — endorsing Cisco’s unified computing strategy multiple times but also asking Ross key questions along the way.
Among the session’s five key revelations:
1. More Than Blade Servers: Egan and Ross both made the case that unified computing is not a mere blade server strategy. The typical Unified Computing system supports up to 320 blade servers, noted Ross.
Egan’s bonus observation: Traditional blades can typically run roughly 20 to 30 virtual servers. But a forthcoming Intel announcement will boost that figure significantly — meaning that a single Unified Computing system will likely scale to support support thousands of virtual servers.
Egan said BlueWater hasn’t competed much in the traditional server market. But Cisco’s “complete solution” approach changes the rules of the game.
2. Open vs. Closed: On the one hand, Cisco evangalizes Unified Computing as an open platform capable of running virtualized Windows and Linux applications. But on the other hand, Ross said she thinks the Cisco system contains about 20 patents. “You could buy a bunch of piece products from another vendor and put it all on the same PO,” said Ross. “But that’s not integrated. Our hardware and firmware and R&D won’t be easily replicated.”
Ross insisted that the unified computing system is not a “rip and replace” strategy, assuring The VAR Guy that Cisco’s equipment can live side-by-side with Dell, IBM and Hewlett-Packard equipment in the data center.
For his part, Egan did not express concerns about vendor lock-in.
3. Expensive vs. Cost Effective: Here again, Ross went on the attack against some media coverage that suggested Cisco’s approach would be more expensive than traditional data center solutions.
Once you get to 24 or 30 servers, Cisco’s Unified Computing system begins to cost less than legacy data center alternatives, Ross asserted. Overall, she believes, Cisco’s approach can deliver 40 to 50 percent cost savings on very large data center deployments.
4. Five Points of Differentiation: Egan, meanwhile, seems to be working from Cisco’s playbook. When asked what makes Cisco Unifed Computing unique, he offered five key points:
- a single point of management
- a unified fabric
- expanded memory
- virtualized adapters
- stateless servers
As a whole, those five points will be difficult for rivals to match, Egan asserted.
5. Where Small Businesses Fit In: Although unified computing targets midsize and large organizations, Ross believes small businesses also stand to benefit from the Cisco strategy. The reason: Major service providers — think of names like Verizon Business — will likely leverage Unified Computing in their data centers, providing major outsourcing services to small businesses.
Drinking the Cool Aid?
Alas, it’s easy to see — and believe — Cisco’s vision when you’re immersed in a TelePresence session for an hour. It’s sort of like trying to criticize Disney while you’re walking through The Magic Kingdom. Surely, all the rides live up to their hype — don’t they?
Hmmm. The VAR Guy rarely bets against Cisco Systems. But there are a lot of pieces in motion here. And there are some big rivals — Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, in particular — standing in Cisco’s way as the networking company tries to march into data centers.
Ultimately, The VAR Guy thinks a showdown — call it healthy debate — will occur between loyal Cisco partners and end-customers that prefer HP, IBM and Dell gear. In other words, Cisco’s success (or failure) in the data center hinges on partners like Egan and BlueWater Communications.