Although the announcement didn’t come as a surprise to the IT industry, it is the way competitors lined up to dismiss the new technology that raised eyebrows and made it obvious that Cisco was not only encroaching on their turf but was seen as a serious threat.
No sooner had Cisco introduced the blade server than rivals dismissed the product saying it raised the problem of vendor lock-in and is too limited in scope to address broad customer needs.
Despite all the naysay, it was interesting to see how quickly all the traditional blade server vendors committed themselves to the newly unveiled Nehalem server processor platform from Intel. Dell, IBM, HP all have lined up or have released servers based on the Nehalem platform aimed at cementing their position and ensuring Cisco does not gain market share at their expense.
Cisco introduced a blade server that is also based on future Intel Nehalem processors and includes memory improvements to support applications with large data sets and allow the creation of many more virtual machines on each server. Partners such as EMC, VMware, Savvis, BMC and Microsoft joined Cisco in calling the UCS a major step forward in the data centre.
Although Dell is the only vendor that directly criticised Cisco’s UCS offering calling it a “one-size-fits-all” product that doesn't take into account the varied needs of customers, IBM and HP have been busy behind the scenes strategising and ramping up their own offerings with other networking players especially in the SAN space.
Brocade Communications which recently completed the acquisition of Foundry Networks has been widely tipped as the next chief rival of Cisco and it has already forged an alliance with IBM, a move widely seen as a direct response to Cisco’s UCS.
Juniper Network is another vendor that has joined the fray and is also looking at working with server vendors to cement its data centre status after it launched a range of enterprising switching products last year.
I wish to point out that moving into the blade server market won't be easy, even for Cisco, with all the financial muscle and clout it brings from the networking side of its business.
However, in Cisco's favour right now, is the many existing IT processes in the data centre which are in flux right now, from virtualisation and services and other things. From this I believe Cisco has not only made the right move by getting into the blade server to be a major player in the data centre market, but its timing has been impeccable. However, I wish to emphasise that success won’t come easily, it will take time.
Data-centre sales or migrations from one vendor to another, or even additions of one vendor's equipment to a relatively homogeneous shop, aren't quick, however, if Cisco is successful in the server market it will have achieved what has taken so many to do in the enterprise blade server market.
Judging by the complaints and denunciations from its competitors, I get a feeling or sign that it has a good chance to be successful hence rivals HP, IBM, Sun, Dell and others are trying so hard to close any loopholes or any window of opportunity that might give Cisco the competitive advantage.
The fact that Cisco is presenting a very niche-focused approach and not just a single blade appliance goes to show that the vendor did its home work before announcing the UCS offering.
At the very least its entry will push HP and IBM and other competitors to innovate more quickly and keep blade server prices down, both of which will benefit enterprise customers and in particular CIOs and IT directors.
At the end of it all, I truly believe that Cisco’s entry into the data centre with a UCS offering will have a fundamental shift in data-centre architecture.
For enterprise customers Cisco’s entry into the server market will at least offer them three choices now: server-based computing from a traditional server-based architecture from HP, mainframe-based from IBM, and now network-centric computing from Cisco.