Cisco's announcement Monday of a Unified Computing System for data centers quickly sparked a bragging battle about which vendor can perform virtualization better.
The best-known vendors of blade servers, HP and IBM, are expected to be the most directly affected by Cisco's move.
However, Cisco's partners in the UCS venture, including BMC Software Inc., described unique characteristics in the new products, which are expected to hit the market in the second quarter.
“The Cisco hardware platform does things not done by others and [BMC] exploits the functionality of their hardware” to provide management, BMC's CEO, Bob Beauchamp, said after the announcement.
Beauchamp said BMC had “every possible kind of relationship” with IBM and HP as “fierce competitors and also partners.” As such, he predicted that the BMC relationship with HP and IBM would “kind of remain the same” despite the obvious Cisco attack on their blade servers. “In general, this [Cisco news] is certainly more competitive,” Beauchamp said.
But officials at HP reacted quickly to the Cisco announcement, noting they had more than 12 years of experience in shipping servers and virtualization technology for use in data centers.
“To be dead honest, the Cisco news is a bit of a compliment for us, I believe,” said Matt Zanner, worldwide director of data center solutions for HP Procurve, the networking division of HP. HP laid out a new open networking concept with a new family of switches in January, which provides “strong validation that we are headed in the right direction as well,” Zanner said.
For HP, blade servers had been a more recognized product set at HP than data center switching, some analysts said. So while Cisco is moving from its traditional networking base to include servers with UCS, HP was strengthening its data center switching portfolio, analysts noted.
IDC said in February that HP had 36% of the overall server market and 58% of the x86 server revenues of the blade server market. An HP spokesman said, that “makes HP the No. 1 competitor for any entry into this market.”
An IBM spokesman dodged the potential controversy over competition for the blade server market with Cisco, calling it a “common dynamic in our industry … We'll compete with them for blades and partner with them to build out network infrastructure.”
But Cisco said it would be doing things unique to virtualization, including providing greater memory capability than has previously been available.
Cisco representatives Glenn Keels, director of product marketing, and Paul Durzan, director of product management for UCS, would not say how much more memory would be possible, but said that the new UCS B-series blade servers, based on Intel's Nehalem processor, would use technology patented by Cisco that extends the memory to support applications with large data sets and allow significantly more virtual machines per server.
The Cisco UCS would also allow management of a data center with virtual machines as a single system, whether it has one or 320 servers, said the Cisco officials.
They said that BMC had set up a single management console that would control movement of service profile of a virtual machine, while VMware would provide the actual movement of the virtual machines, which could number in the thousands over server infrastructure including 320 servers.
Analyst Jason Ader, of William Blair & Co., said he was not convinced that BMC's management in the UCS would be unique to Cisco. “I am not sure there is anything truly unique here [with UCS] that a customer couldn't build by taking pieces of various vendors and putting them together,” he said in an interview.
BMC's Beauchamp said that company was the preferred management vendor for the Cisco UCS. He said BMC was allowed by Cisco to take its management software for UCS and apply it to other servers from other vendors.
But Beauchamp said, “If other vendors add similar functionality as Cisco to their products, we would be able to exploit that, but Cisco has a long lead here.”