In early 2009, rumours started to emerge that Cisco planned to sell blade servers.
At first, the idea seemed odd: what business did the networking giant have selling servers, especially given its move into storage had been underwhelming?
Then in mid-March the full details emerged: Cisco was not just selling servers, it had devised a Unified Computing System (UCS) and a blade server it expected would be virtualised, arranged in super-dense configurations and used for very high-performance tasks.
Nearly a year later, the company can point to some success, claiming 400 global sales. US company Tutor Perini was the first user, while in Australia Curtin University and the Catholic Education Network have both signed up, along with AlphaWest/Optus.
Cisco believes 400 systems in a year represents great success.
Dylan Morison, Cisco ANZ's Data centre Lead, told SearchNetworking ANZ that “A year ago, the industry’s view was ‘What does Cisco know about this?’ Now I think we are being followed. Analysts and other vendors use the term unified computing.”
Analysts may be doing so, but 400 global sales means analyst firm Gartner does not yet track sales of the product, either regionally or globally (but does rank Cisco a “visionary on its Magic Quadrant for blade server vendors).
Cisco partners, meanwhile, see demand for the product.
David Hanrahan, Dimension Data’s General Manager for Virtual Data Centre Initiatives, says UCS was “a little slow to start with.”
“For the first two months the struggle was that people thought they were looking at a comparison with other blades.”
Hanrahan says the market has since come to understand that UCS is intended for use in a virtualized environment and can be deployed to underpin applications, rather than being a tool that must be applied to a whole data centre.
“The first UCS purchases were to meet demand for specific applications, now we are seeing broader implementations.”
IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac is also seeing UCS deployed for specific applications.
“I've seen a few sales, but generally to smaller organisation,” he told SearchNetworking ANZ. “The issue is not with UCS. It is that most mid to large orgs have already standardised on a blade supplier and this type of IT infrastructure has quite a bit of inertia and can be hard to displace.”
Cisco agrees that UCS is not for everyone, with Morison saying customers need “some kind of trigger point” before they consider virtualisation on the scale that merits an investment in UCS products. And those trigger points are, he believes, going to become more frequent.
“There is a recognised market transition around highly virtualised computing,” he says, naming virtual desktop infrastructure as one application he expects will fuel ongoing interest in UCS.