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Cisco Rocks the Data Center

By now you've probably heard a lot about Cisco declaring war on IBM and Hewlett-Packard by introducing its own blade server and associated products to unify and virtualize the data center. The networking giant is taking on a big challenge by introducing server products and a unified fabric and trying to change the way enterprises build, virtualize, and manage their IT infrastructure. I think it was smart for the company to decide not to also pick a fight with storage vendors.

Cisco's Unified Computing System has been under development for more than a year and is designed to virtualize almost all of the resources in an enterprise data center, letting IT managers more easily move resources around to where they are needed. By designing its own system, Cisco created a blade server that promises to take up less space, power, and cooling, and cut down on the number of adapters and cables coming out of each server. It also promises to make more efficient use of computing, storage, and networking capacity and to simplify management of all of those resources. Only time and tests will tell if Cisco can deliver on those promises.

A key element is Cisco unified fabric that uses the company's own version of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet for low latency and lossless communications between the servers and storage. The company also introduced fabric extenders, which provide up to four 10-Gbit/s connections between each blade server and the fabric interconnect, and its own network adapters. It uses Fibre Channel over Ethernet to consolidate IP and storage networks.

It is an ambitious undertaking and probably won't get a lot of traction for a while, thanks to shrinking IT budgets and a worsening economy. On the storage side of the data center, Cisco chose to partner with two of the industry's leading suppliers: EMC and NetApp. It posted videos on YouTube from those companies touting the partnerships. You can see EMC CEO Joe Tucci's video endorsement here and NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven's video endorsement here.

I've heard some jokes that Cisco didn't do its own storage because it didn't want to fight the storage vendors when it was battling IBM and HP. Others joked that storage is still too complicated and difficult, even for a company like Cisco. I think it is more a case where the actual storage hardware will become less interesting and important (and less profitable) if Cisco can consolidate, unify, and virtualize most of the rest of the data center. Perhaps it is a combination of all three.

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