Cisco Remakes Virtualization, Storage Landscape


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Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) says its new Unified Computing System isn't limited to virtual server environments, but it certainly seems designed for them.

Loaded with memory and 10Gb interconnects, Cisco's UCS packs in four times as many virtual machines as traditional servers and is designed to ease virtual I/O constraints. Cisco released more details about the system today, a month after it was first unveiled.

EMC (NYSE: EMC) and NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP) have been tapped as data storage partners for the new offering, which is also built around EMC subsidiary VMware's (NYSE: VMW) virtualization technology. Cisco says it's working with other virtualization vendors too, including Citrix (NASDAQ: CTXS) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT).

EMC says its new Symmetrix V-Max is designed to accomplish with storage what Cisco and VMware have accomplished with servers: to take many resources and have them appear and operate as one. NetApp, meanwhile, announced its own storage partnership with Cisco today.

Emulex (NYSE: ELX) and QLogic (NASDAQ: QLGC) are providing converged network adapters (CNAs) for the offering.

Cisco claims its Data Center Ethernet and FCoE-based interconnects and fabric extenders can save users a bundle on Ethernet and Fibre Channel switches and management software.

Built for Speed

But the new server's biggest potential seems to be to overcome the integration and I/O constraints that come from packing virtual machines into a traditional server, storage and network environment. Cisco's new memory expansion and hypervisor bypass technology, for example, promise to maximize performance for virtualization and large-dataset workloads.

James Staten, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, said he believes Cisco will primarily use all that speed to optimize its UCS for virtualized workloads. "Customers will likely be Cisco customers with highly intensive data center needs who see the value of investing lots of money in a powerful, integrated platform," said Staten.

"The new blade center architecture has potential memory and I/O advantages, which are key in a large-scale virtualized environment," wrote Enterprise Storage Group analysts Mark Bowker, Steve Duplessie and Jon Oltsik in a summary of UCS. "But it will take hundreds of blades, thousands of virtual machines, and a resource-intensive environment for customers to fully see the value."

The ESG analysts noted that Cisco's support for triple the amount of blade memory compared to existing offerings will make the UCS an attractive platform for large environments.

"By sticking its big toe in the server water, Cisco gains some experience — it can test the water with its customers and OEMs," said Greg Schultz, founder and senior analyst at the StorageIO Group. "But more importantly, it gives Cisco a means to prop up its emerging Data Center Ethernet, also known as Fiber Channel over Ethernet, story while the rest of the industry and surrounding ecosystem continues to evolve."

If nothing else, said Schultz, Cisco will provide a reference model for how IT customers can use Cisco and its solutions to optimize virtualized environments instead of relying on HP (NYSE: HPQ), IBM (NYSE: IBM) and other blade vendors.

Page 2: Competitive Challenges

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