Building a Better Blade Server – Network Style….
I’ve been asked a lot about why would Cisco build a blade server recently. I don’t know where these rumors and speculation come from. But notwithstanding I thought I would write out the answers I usually give. 1) Cisco is NOT building a blade server. What we are doing with Unified Computing is so much more than just a blade server that even using terms like blade server in the same sentence with Unified Computing doesn’t do the architecture justice. The problem is that with something that is this big in scope and scale, people often have a hard time wrapping their heads around it and conceptualizing it. Let’s face it though – in a couple years it may be the way people look at IT and they look back at the piece-meal, services intensive, high cost approaches they took from 1990-2010 and wonder why no one ever did Unified Computing earlier.
2) Ever plug a server in, turn it on, and watch it? It just sits there. Occasionally a light may blink – that is usually the status indicator on the network interface card. Why? because networks TRY to do something and their default operating behavior is to be interoperable and connected. The server, now plugged in, is sitting there, idling, consuming about 40% of its peak power, draining kilowatt hours, costing you $$$, and accomplishing nothing – unless you needed a marginally efficient space heater. Ever plug a router in? Or a switch? With 1-2 commands your router can join the network, advertise itself, determine what is connected to it, and start creating alternate communications paths, increasing the bandwidth and performance of the system as a whole. Networked devices communicate with open standard interfaces, work together, even across vendors, and start creating some business value out-of-the-box. I am sure a server vendor will come back to you with some answer involving a multi-million dollar management system that they want you to have, and then multi-million dollar services contracts and customization support you need to make it work and show how that can make the server be sort-of-like-a-router. 3) R&D spend. Some companies want to own everything – they want to sell you ink, services, toner, people, switches, servers, cables, people, storage, printers, monitors, proprietary Unix, people, gaming machines, photo printing, people, calculators and even paper (did I mention people…). In the data center, as in other areas of networking, we are focused on interoperability, standards, and going to market with a broad array of best-of-breed partnerships. Sure one company can try to own all of it, and everyone has some growth aspirations – hard to fault that or I’d be calling the kettle black, but if you look at the aggregate R&D and services delivery capabilities of Cisco and our Partners in this space – it is far larger than any monolithic and myopic company. 4) Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. At an event two years ago an analyst mentioned to me that ‘Blade Servers are the biggest innovation in the server market in a decade!’. I was shocked, astounded, and somewhat stupefied. I asked back, after a moment of pause- ‘If rotating a server 90 degrees on its side is the biggest innovation in the server market in the last ten years don’t you think the server market has a problem?’ (we did that with switching 10+ years earlier). I went on for the next two years asking many people the same question – I have heard back ILO boards, Virtualization, Multi-Core, etc. I remember using lights-out management boards over 10 years ago, so that sort of rules them out; Virtualization was not delivered on x86 by a server vendor, but instead by a software company; and Multi-Core CPUs were developed by the CPU vendors- Intel and AMD. So what have the server vendors done for their customers in the past 5-10 years? Where has all of this R&D spend gone? I’ve seen server margins compact, and server companies staff thousands to make up the margin with lucrative services. In fact some server vendors have started moving to integrate more tightly with the network- why? Because every time network capabilities have increased two things have happened: parallel networks have consolidated and servers have disaggregated. (Don’t believe me? Look at IP Telephony and FibreChannel and FCoE as examples). Why not make a server that creates customer value. Then you can solve real business problems. Then you can return shareholder value. dg Follow me on Twitter @ dgourlay