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Server Den: Cisco Turning UCS Into Server Battleground

I've spent the past month poring over survey data and working on my State of Server Technology 2010 research report for InformationWeek Analytics. (I want to be a tech analyst when I grow up.) So my interest was piqued recently when Hitachi Data Systems said it was getting intothe Unified Computing System space.

This is an interesting development mostly because of what it says about vendors' marketing strategies, and their perceptions of where enterprise buyers' heads are at. I've long assumed that executives at the big server guns -- IBM, HP, and Dell -- must be blanching at the runaway freight train which the UCS moniker has become. (Oracle/Sun, perhaps less so, but I'm waiting until a pending interview with them takes place before I write about their strategy.) I can image those guys figuratively screaming, 'Hey, we've got this stuff, too, and we were here first."

One reason Cisco is gaining ground in the compute portion of the data center so rapidly is because UCS is a more accessible term than what the other guys use. (Note that this doesn't have anything to do with the intrinsic quality of anyone's server, storage, and networking resources, which are top notch all around. I'm talking about the marketing battle.)

Dell calls its best-of-breed data-center approach the "Efficient Enterprise." HP goes with "Converged Infrastructure." IBM uses "Dynamic Infrastructure"--terminology that's about to take a back seat to Smarter Systems for a Smarter Planet, which is favored by IBM senior vice president Rod Adkins, who's the new guy in charge (see see my interview).

What I found in researching my State of Server Technology 2010 report is that UCS, while nominally a data-center play, has also positioned Cisco squarely in the server market. Enterprise buyers are, increasingly, interested in taking a look at the blade and rack servers bundled into UCS.

This makes perfect sense, since taxonomically servers are a notch down from the data-center bucket. It also makes sense that Cisco's UCS starts to hit its sweet spot in the middle-to-upper-level of the midmarket, because that's where you start to find enterprise customers with the bucks to buy full-blown data-center configurations.

That's as opposed to small, small businesses, where there's more of a tendency to jgo out and buy a Dell PowerEdge or HP ProLiant server, and plug it in. Very small companies have neither the bucks, expertise, nor often the need to muck about with big data-center architectural visions.

In that mid-and-upper mid-market spot, you have that need, and some money, yet perhaps not the same wealth of knowledge present in a large enterprise. That's why the one-stop-shop presented by UCS can be so appealing.

Hitachi's entry, under the UCS banner, says they see this, too. IBM's movement to what they believe is the more accessible "Smarter Systems" branding is additional confirmation. Personally, I believe HP may well air out its marketing terminology at some point, too. Dell, with its already differentiated "Efficient Enterprise," will probably stand pat.

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