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Cisco enters server market to remove virtualisation roadblocks

Stephen Pritchard

Networking equipment vendor Cisco has confirmed that it is entering the server business, announcing a roadmap for x86-based blades and a wide-ranging industry partnership centred around Intel, and spanning storage software companies from EMC and VMWare to Microsoft, BMC and Red Hat.

At an international launch event held over the company's telepresence video conferencing system, Cisco president and CEO John Chambers confirmed that the company had developed a series of blade computing systems, based around Intels' Nehalem processor, which will be called the Unified Computer System (UCS). Neither technical specifications nor pricing were revealed, however, with Cisco promising further updates in April.

Chambers did reveal that EMC will be providing storage options, VMWare the virtualisation layer, and Cisco the networking infrastructure.

The networking infrastructure will be based around Cisco's recent, unified fabric infrastructure. However, Chambers said Cisco believes most customers will opt for Ethernet-based systems, including Fibre Channel over Ethernet and other protocols running over the 10 Gigabit Ethernet standard.

Cisco denied that the launch was an all-out assault on server makers such as IBM and HP, saying that the UCS is aimed specifically at the datacentre and for companies looking to move to a next-generation of datacentre technology based around virtualisation.

Cisco has added custom Asics and additional memory support to the basic Nahalem server architecture to support more simultaneous virtual machines and remove some of the common I/O and memory bottlenecks, as well as the complexity of existing systems.

Cisco claims that by combining computing, networking and storage in one system, combined with virtualisation and a combined management layer, customers will be able to save up to 20% on up-front capital expenditure, against comparable non-integrated systems, and will see a reduction in operational costs by 30%.

"Customers want to do more with less and we have lowered capex by 20%, and that is conservative. It could be double that," said Chambers.

Cisco suggested that greater savings could come from increasing the percentage of computing loads Cisco customers run under virtualisation. According to Rob Lloyd, executive vice-president designate, worldwide operations , the object of the UCS is to make it easier to increase such loads.

"The reasons that only 30% of loads on x86 systems are virtualised is what we are trying to fix with this system," he said. "We expect customers to move to much greater virtualisations, as this allows more virtual machines per blade with expanded memory."


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