BY KEVIN KOMIEGA
Cisco has put a new twist on next-generation data centers with the debut of the Unified Computing System (UCS), which combines compute, network, storage access, and virtualization resources in a single system based on a new line of blade servers.
The UCS features five core technologies that Cisco CEO John Chambers says will change how future data centers will evolve using virtualization and cloud-based architectures.
The first piece of the puzzle is compute. Cisco's server platform incorporates new UCS B-Series blades based on the future Intel Nehalem processor family (the next generation of Intel's Xeon processor). The Cisco blades offer "extended memory technology" to support applications with large data sets and allow significantly more virtual machines (VMs) per server.
The second element is network connectivity. It is no surprise that Cisco has integrated its unified fabric technology into the UCS via support for low-latency, lossless, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE). The unified fabric support, which Cisco has been touting for the past year in its Nexus switch line, consolidates LAN and SAN traffic on a single wire, reducing the number of network adapters, switches, and cables and decreasing power and cooling requirements.
Third is storage access. The UCS provides consolidated access to both SANs and NAS systems. The unified fabric support also affects storage by enabling access to storage over Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) or iSCSI. Additionally, users can pre-assign storage access policies for system connectivity to storage resources.
In support of the UCS launch, EMC and Cisco have officially expanded their strategic alliance to focus on testing products for interoperability and on developing data center solutions and support offerings.
EMC and Cisco plan to integrate EMC's products with the UCS, including EMC Smarts and ControlCenter software, storage products, and VMware's virtualization tools.
Joe Tucci, EMC's chairman, president and CEO, says his company plans to help customers build compute and storage clouds based on the UCS platform.
"We will make sure our storage systems are tuned to work with and bring value to the Unified Computing System," says Tucci. EMC will also be focusing on integrating flash-based solid-state disk (SSD) drives with the Unified Computing architecture.
The main technology behind the UCS is virtualization. The system is built to accommodate scale, performance, and operational control of virtual server environments. The system extends Cisco's security, policy enforcement, and diagnostics features into virtualized environments to better manage change in large-scale virtual server environments.
As part of the UCS launch, VMware and Cisco announced an OEM deal, which will incorporate product engineering as well as integrated sales and support strategies for data center virtualization and unified computing. Specifically, the UCS will be integrated with VMware's vCenter suite of management products for managing virtual network policies and resources.
The final piece of the puzzle is management. All of the components of the UCS are managed as a single entity through the Cisco UCS Manager. The UCS Manager provides a GUI, a command line interface (CLI), and an API to manage all system configuration and operations.
Cisco hauled out the big guns in support of the launch. In addition to the aforementioned EMC and VMware, BMC Software, Emulex, Intel, Microsoft, NetApp, Novell, Oracle, QLogic and Red Hat all pledged support for the UCS.
Cisco has also expanded its relationships with Accenture, CSC, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and Wipro for consulting services and systems integration engagements.
Cisco will initially go to market with a select group of Cisco Data Center Specialized channel partners that already possess the networking, compute, virtualization, storage, and integrated services practices required to help customers make the transition to a Unified Computing architecture.
Cisco plans to add more channel partners to the new Cisco Unified Computing Authorized Technology Provider Program as customer demand for UCS accelerates.
Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) founder and senior analyst Steve Duplessie calls the UCS another step on the path toward where IT needs to be.
"It looks like great packaging to get us closer to where the world needs to end up, but it's just a step—not the end," says Duplessie. "The UCS gets rid of some layers of complexity by collapsing the networking elements down and unifying connectivity and management, has high density, and supports tons of virtual machines."