Cisco takes aim at the data center market with unified computing

Cisco has started its push into the data center market, putting it head to head with long-time partners IBM, HP and Dell.

The networking leader overnight unveiled its new architecture that combines computing, networking, storage and virtualization.

Cisco will launch the first servers based on its Unified Computing System (UCS) in the second half of 2009, it said.

Servers based on the system will use Cisco blades based on Intel's upcoming Nehalem processor. They will feature 10Gbps Ethernet networking and promise to consolidate LANs, storage area networks and high performance computing networks.

Analysts said UCS is the latest Cisco's effort to open up revenue streams beyond switches and routers, but it pitches it into a confrontation with its some of its most important technology partners.

Forrester Research analyst James Staten described it as "a direct frontal assault on IBM and HP," the New York Times reported.

GigaOm tech blog said HP and IBM would bear the brunt of the move, "while companies that have a healthier commodity and lower-end server business such as Dell will likely feel less pain in the near term because some of their customers will not need the God-like powers Cisco is promising with its newest system."

Cisco says it converged servers would reduce organization's capex by up to 20% and opex by up to 30%.

The UCS will be powered by Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and use virtualization technology provided by Red Hat and VMware. It will also use information infrastructure technologies provided by EMC.

"The Virtual Machine has become the new atomic building block of the data center [and has] the potential to transform the computing environment and deliver significant benefits," said Mario Mazzola, senior vice president of Cisco's server and virtualization unit.

The products will be accompanied by software solutions co-developed with Accenture.

Cisco has also announced an authorized technology provider program for the UCS, which currently includes firms such as Microsoft, Novel and Oracle as well as the above companies. Cisco said  it will collaborate with more companies as the UCS gains traction.