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Cisco Unified Computing shakes up how IT buys hardware

Cisco Unified Computing shakes up how IT buys hardware

UCS may help Cisco gain a foothold in server and storage purchasing decisions

"Cisco is betting that UCS's technological differences will beat the competition. But to displace an incumbent vendor like HP, these features must also be price competitive and offer value, as the server market is driven by price and ... that is lower than Cisco's norm," Gartner said in its report.

Forrester Research principal analyst Galen Schreck sees the move as defensive on Cisco's part. "It was necessary because there's been a collision of servers and networking. People are buying HP blades with networking consolidated in them. What would be left for Cisco in that universe?" Schreck adds that Cisco's approach is "a bit more elegant."

Cisco lined up some impressive partners to join it on Monday including Accenture for consulting services, BMC, EMC, Microsoft, and VMware. What remains to be seen is whether Cisco can maintain such an ecosystem, IDC said. "Broader adoption will require tighter integration with existing datacenter frameworks," according to the research firm.

Datacenter rivals, meanwhile, responded to Cisco with public statements on Monday. Brocade said that Cisco's "very capital intensive" approach is not revolutionary and it really should leverage industry standards. Hewlett-Packard also circulated an e-mail suggesting that Cisco has "a lot to learn about the datacenter." And Juniper Networks' vice president of business development for datacenters, Andy Ingram, said to Forbes magazine, "We like this move [because] Cisco is pushing business in our direction."

Cisco did not provide a lot of nitty-gritty details about its Unified Computing System on Monday, but we do know that it's a cluster of as many as 40 Intel Nehalem Xeon-based servers tied together over a Cisco Nexus 10Gig Ethernet switch fabric that supports Fibre-Channel-over-IP and iSCSI SANs as well as NAS. The system also has a memory extension module that allows sharing memory across servers to overcome memory constraints in virtual server environments. And Cisco is pitching it as an integrated compute-network-storage system built for virtual server environments.

Cisco executive vice president Robert Lloyd said that more details about configurations and specific solutions will be available early next month.

"It's going to take a while since this is Cisco's first foray. It does take time to mature," Forrester's Schreck said. Gartner's Butler added,  "Look out for reciprocal actions from Cisco's big rivals before long."

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