Cisco has launched a mainstream data center computing platform – Unified Computing System (UCS) – that promises to seamlessly integrate processor, storage and network systems in a virtualised architecture.

The move pits the networking equipment market leader against the world’s largest systems vendors, including HP, IBM, Dell, Fujitsu and others.

UCS offers medium and large enterprises a single architecture that links all data centre resources together, so overcoming the "assembly-required" nature of distinct virtualisation environments.

Prem Jain, senior vice president of Server Access and Virtualization Business Unit at Cisco, said UCS unites compute, network, storage access and virtualization resources in a single energy-efficient system that unleashes the power of virtualization.

"By delivering and supporting Microsoft operating systems for the Unified Computing System, we’re offering a familiar Windows platform to help our customers integrate this revolutionary new architecture into existing data center environments so they can quickly realize the benefits of unified computing," he said.

Virtualisation has transformed the structure of server and storage environments in data centres. It is now extending to network virtualisation.

With UCS, Cisco is positioning itself so as to have a controlling role across all three levels of virtual technology.

Starting in the second quarter of 2009, it plans to offer complete systems of up to 320 compute nodes housed in 40 chassis, with data flowing across 10 gigabit Ethernet.

Critical to its challenge will be its ability to draw on the expertise of key partners. These include:

  • Its compute capabilities, UCS B-Series blades, will be based on Intel Nehalem processors
  • The follow-on generation will be from Intel Xeon.
  • VMware will supply the critical virtualisation software
  • BMC will enable "a single management environment for all data centre devices".
  • EMC and NetApp will be responsible for the storage system units
  • Emulex and Qlogic will input storage networking technology
  • Oracle will deliver middleware
  • Key systems software will come from Microsoft and Red Hat.

John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, said UCS could do a lot for Cisco’s bottom line.

He said it gives Cisco access to about a quarter of the many billions spent inside the data center, up from less than 10 per cent presently.
That’s the principal reason why Cisco is reinventing the basic building block of the data center.

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