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New blade server is key to Cisco data center plan

Cisco Systems Inc. has unveiled its first blade server, which will serve as the centerpiece of a system the company promises will make adding virtualization to corporate data centers easier — and less expensive.

The Unified Computing System, announced last week, includes the UCS B-Series blade server, a Cisco switch, VMware virtualization technology, and other Cisco and third-party tools combined in a single rackable system designed to manage virtualized data centers, the company said. Analysts said they expect the system and services package to be priced from about $100,000.

Cisco said it will disclose more information about the UCS next month.

The blade server, which will compete with offerings from longtime Cisco partners Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM, is based on Intel Corp.'s Nehalem processor and includes extended memory technology to support applications with large data sets. The server will be used to manage and automate the movement of virtual machines and applications across data center servers.

In a press briefing, CEO John Chambers said the UCS represents a “market transition” for the company. “We believe that the network is at the heart of tying this all together. We look at this as [Cisco] bringing virtualization to life.”

Cisco said the full UCS system, slated to ship in the second quarter, is currently being tested by 10 beta customers, including IT services firm Savvis Inc.

“The UCS works well,” said Savvis Chief Technology Officer Bryan Doerr. “We're just to the point of stressing major features and functions.” Savvis provides network and data center services to 4,000 customers from 29 data centers around the globe. The Town & Country, Mo.-based company isn't being compensated for testing the Cisco technology, Doerr said.

Savvis is evaluating the UCS to determine whether it would be the best option in the company's effort to create more scalable virtualization than it uses now. Today, Doerr said, Savvis focuses “more on physical virtualization and cloud-based services that leverage conventional services such as VMware provides.”

Later this year, Savvis will pit Cisco's UCS against other virtualization server systems so it can determine which system best meets its needs, Doerr added.

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