Cisco rewrites the datacentre rule book for virtualisation

Cisco plans to rewrite the datacentre design book with a suite of products and a strategy to provide what it calls a unified computing system.

Cisco plans to rewrite the datacentre design book with a suite of products and a strategy to provide what it calls a unified computing system. Experts believe its approach will change the way servers, storage and networks are managed in future generations of datacentres.

John Chambers, chairman and chief executive office at the network equipment giant, says it has taken a different approach to virtualisation, compared with the rest of the industry, which will help to lower IT costs.

"We want to allow the world to use IT in new ways. The network is at the heart of the datacentre. The unified computing system will reduce the amount of infrastructure datacentres need by a minimum of 30%," he says.

Virtual building block

Cisco's design philosophy is based on the premise that previous generations of datacentre equipment are unable to cope with the demands of a modern, virtualised environment.

"The virtual machine has become the new atomic building block of the datacentre, creating new challenges and opportunities with the potential to transform the computing environment and deliver significant benefits," says Mario Mazzola, senior vice-president of the server access and virtualisation business unit at Cisco.

Cisco's approach relies on computing, network, storage access and virtualisation products designed into a scalable, modular architecture, which the company says can be managed as a single system.

The servers will be based on Nehalem, the next edition of the Intel Xeon processor, storage will be available over an ethernet network link, fibre channel, fibre channel over ethernet or iSCSI, and centralised management will be available from a single console called Cisco UCS Manager.

Shape of things to come

Forrester Research believes IT directors should look at Cisco's plans seriously because the Cisco UCS is the shape of servers to come.

"Something like the Cisco UCS is a logical outcome when you start designing servers with a clean sheet of paper," according to Forrester analyst Galen Schrenk, writing on Cisco's strategy.

"The datacentre has become more dynamic. We want to be able to move virtualised applications around for availability or efficiency reasons, but older servers make it hard to keep track of the relationship between logical and physical resources."

Managing data movement

To do this users will need to manage how the data moves between datacentre components. Experts agree that the efficiency of virtualisation in the datacentre is limited by the input and output (I/O) connections between the severs, storage area network and local and wide area networks.

Schrenk says in an ideal setting, users will want to control I/O all the way from the datacentre switch to the rack, chassis, physical adapter, virtual switch, and finally the virtual adapter with the same admin command and common system admin policies.

Writing on the analyst website, Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, says, "We are seeing a whole new packaging of the modern datacentre in a way that may very well change the market. It is bold, and it is risky. One-stop shopping for datacentres has been only a goal, never fully realised. In fact, many enterprises probably do not want any one supplier to have such control, especially when standards are in short supply. But they need lower costs and lower complexity."

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