Despite Cisco's recent entry into the "compute" data center sector, John Chambers said during the 10/24/2009 quarter earnings call that the UCS is experiencing, "…solid market reception with a very good initial ramp and order pipeline." As the first optimized hosting platform for a virtualized data center, Cisco Unified Computing System has generated tremendous industry buzz with many organizations eager to acquire it. Not unexpectedly, others are more cautious about moving to this new type of virtualization architecture. The following are some common IT staff concerns and how IT leaders can address them.
We know who to call when our Dell/IBM/HP servers break – our server team isn't used to the Cisco support model.
Virtualization changes everything. Server failure is no longer a crisis, or really even an inconvenience. Virtual machines simply move over to another host based upon preconfigured resource and proximity settings and, as software, quickly reboot – and users are back in business. Mission critical applications utilize vSphere's Fault Tolerance to migrate to another host without any session disruption at all. Cisco UCS includes exceptional redundancy within each chassis as well as between chasses. If a blade should break, it can simply be serviced when convenient. Additionally, Cisco provides outstanding support as validated by J.D. Power and Associates for the last three years in a row.
We don't need the fancy UCS capabilities of server profiles and stateless computing. VMware's High Availability, VMotion and DRS work just fine for us.
Service profiles and stateless computing may not be needed, but they sure are nice to have. If a blade should fail, a replacement blade can be configured in minutes through simply applying the desired service profile. Servers that must remain physical for regulatory or political reasons can still be rapidly recovered in the event of blade failure – the associated service profile is simply moved to a blade in a common sparing pool. Similarly, storage associated with a physical server can be replicated between Unified Computing Systems at different data centers, enabling very fast recovery in the event of a disaster. Server profiles also enable exceptionally fast provisioning as Cisco demonstrated by migrating over 150 of its servers to virtual machines in less than eight hours.
We are already taking on risk through virtualizing, and we are hesitant to add more risk with another new technology, Cisco UCS. What is the incentive?
A 2009 Webtorials study showed that server failure was the number one cause of outage, followed by human error. Virtualization, through high availability and vSphere Fault Tolerance, enables such fast recoverability that server failure is no longer an operational risk. The ability to provide all testing, patching and upgrades in a virtual sandbox lowers the risk of a production roll-out. Cisco Unified Computing System further reduces the human error component by utilizing a common GUI to assist coordination between the server, storage and network teams. The enterprise class performance and extended memory capabilities of UCS provide assurance for hosting even the most significant Tier 1 applications as virtual machines. Slashed cabling, switch requirements and lower on-going operating expenses provide further incentives for using Cisco UCS rather than traditional servers.
How do we know that Cisco is really committed to this new area?
Cisco has made a massive investment, perhaps a "bet-the-company" investment, in the UCS platform as part of its overall commitment to the data center. Cisco Unified Computing System is not simply a commodity server rolled off a factory belt; it is the culmination of an extraordinary effort and vision over several years to provide an optimized hosting platform for virtualized data centers. Cisco has risked disrupting its relationship with some of its biggest partners by entering this arena. Cisco's recently announced Acadia partnership with EMC and VMware further demonstrates its commitment to UCS and the virtualization space.
We are under-staffed, and we just don't have the spare time to learn how to configure and manage Cisco UCS.
UCS, like many new technologies, requires an initial investment in training in order to reap the huge rewards of reduced IT staff and resource requirements. UCS does not change the server, storage and network tasks, but helps simplify and coordinate them. Initial reports from the field show a very well thought-out, and not so intimidating, product.
We want to see other reference accounts in our area in our field. We don't want to be pioneers with arrows in our backs.
The UCS B-Series just started shipping within the past few months. While success stories are already starting to appear, it will take time to create and publish industry-specific references.
Cisco UCS C-Series
I recently tweeted a mnemonic tip to help keep the Cisco UCS series straight: B-Series stands for "Blades", and C-Series stands for "Can't believe Cisco Makes Servers". While tongue-in-cheek, I nevertheless was somewhat perplexed about why Cisco would enter the commodity market with a rack-mounted server, albeit one with significantly enhanced memory and performance capabilities. One reason may be that the product roadmap calls for C-Series to be managed by the same Cisco UCSM software that manages the B-Series. Organizations can purchase the C-Series today rather than standard servers yet preserve their investment once they make the full commitment to the B-Series virtualized hosting platform.