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Cisco UCS Five Years On: The Right Solution at the Right Time

March 25, 2014 at 12:06 pm PST

I knew we were on to something good when a customer told me “This is so easy, it’s CTO proof.”

Early in the business, I was talking to a front-line server admin who had found that Cisco UCS made server deployment so reliable, automated and simple that he was convinced even his CTO could pull it off without breaking anything.  The enthusiasm was real, and infectious, and it changed the face of the data center market.

Thinking back five years to March of 2009, when Cisco introduced UCS, the economy was still spiraling into the worst recession of our lifetime.  IT budgets were being slashed.   Many wondered if it was the right time for Cisco to enter a new market with deeply entrenched competitors.

As it turns out, it was the perfect time.  Because change occurs fastest when times are hard.

looking for change

In the decade leading up to 2009, computing innovation had stalled.  The incumbents still had tunnel vision on the power and cooling challenges that arose out of multi-core processing in the mid-2000’s.  Innovation was essentially focused on mechanical packaging:  blade servers for mainstream IT and  “skinless” boxes for the hyperscale crowd.   Overlooked was the real problem for the vast majority of customers:  operational complexity. Remember that server virtualization was rapidly spreading in nearly every data center.  Again, this was originally a response to a hardware problem: processor utilization; but as everyone recognized the operational benefits, virtualization was taking hold very fast.  As was cloud.  Combine all this with the disaggregation of data storage from the server, which had already moved out onto the network as NAS and SAN many years before, and you had a perfect storm of complexity threatening to outpace the capacity of many IT organizations.  The individual technologies in the data center were not overwhelmingly complex but tying them all together, into a system where you could land and scale an application in a very secure and available way, became the all-consuming job of the customer.   Collectively, the industry had failed.   In 2009, more than ever, customers needed something to help them slash OPEX in the data center and free people up to face the challenges of the day.  This was the innovation vacuum that UCS had been designed to fill.

Think of UCS as the Turducken of the data center:  the sum is much, much greater (and tastier) than the parts.   A lot of true innovation has gone into UCS in the areas of server I/O and in fundamental advancements to server management technology.   The latter is especially critical, because what is often overlooked in virtualization and cloud discussions is the underlying issue of deploying, managing and scaling the physical infrastructure itself (details, details…)   The advent of UCS completed the total abstraction and automation of hardware in crucial ways that hypervisor and cloud technology still can’t acheive on their own.   API-controlled data center hardware is a foundational element of modern IT innovation, and UCS started it all.  This may be Cisco’s greatest contribution to the industry and charted the course for Cisco ACI in the broader data center.

Cisco Unified Computing System Five Years of Data Center Innovation from Cisco Data Center

 

Cisco’s not stopping.   In the intervening five years, new innovation opportunities have appeared.   Most recently, the addition of flash systems to Unified Computing in the form of UCS Invicta, which opens up a whole new chapter for what customers will be able to achieve with the System.  UCS Director is taking on a pivotal role for automation across Cisco solutions and the integrated infrastructures that we construct with our storage partners.  The future is so bright, our partners need sunglasses.

UCS timeline

The team has put together this interactive timeline that commemorates many of the milestones in the first five years of UCS.   Looking back over it, I can only feel proud and humbled to be associated with the team here at Cisco, our technology and channel partners, and most importantly with our customers, who have clearly proven that UCS was (and is) the right solution at the right time.

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Partners and Cisco UCS + ACI = Amazing Together

Today at Cisco we announced the fifth anniversary of the Unified Computing System (UCS), along with innovations in our Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) portfolio.

It’s pretty exciting considering that when we entered the server market five years ago, there were questions about what we were doing. Was it the right play? Could Cisco be successful in this new market? Well history has borne out that it was indeed a good idea. With the help of our channel partners we have gone from “zero to hero.”  Our partnerships with our channel and technology partners took us from not being a player in this space to becoming a multi-billion dollar business with over 30,000 UCS customers worldwide.

More than 80 percent of all Cisco UCS sales go through our channel partners, and we are now ranked second worldwide in x86 blade server revenue market share. These accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at, and we know just how important it has been to work with our partners to make such a rapid move in this market. Cisco’s data center partner community continues to thrive and grow, with partners investing in their data center practices using Cisco UCS as a foundation.  We have more than 3,850 channel partners that sell Cisco UCS today, with more than half of them possessing UCS Specialization credentials.  In fact, a year ago, in Q2FY13, there were about 1,600 Cisco Specialized partners on UCS. In Q2FY14 a year later, Cisco had approximately 2,000 UCS Specialized partners – a 25% increase over the previous year. Read More »

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UC – How does Cisco IT Support and Manage its UC Services?

Cisco IT supports all its services with a global service management and delivery team. I am the service owner for the IT UC and video team; we own the strategy, planning and delivery of voice and video services throughout the Cisco enterprise. Read More »

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#EngineersUnplugged S5|Ep2: ACI and Traditional Networking

March 12, 2014 at 10:53 am PST

This is an amazing episode of Engineers Unplugged, where two technologists from the community, Hal Rottenberg (@halr9000) and Colin Lynch (@ucsguru) discuss how ACI disrupts traditional networking thinking while leveraging current networking skills. It’s a great tutorial for anyone looking to understand what application centric infrastructure really means.

Will network engineers all become programmers?

Watch and see:

This unicorn comes with birthday wishes--Happy 5th Birthday UCS!

Happy Birthday UCS Unicorn courtesy of Colin Lynch, with commentary by Hal Rottenberg!

Happy Birthday UCS Unicorn courtesy of Colin Lynch, with commentary by Hal Rottenberg!

**The next Engineers Unplugged shoot is at Varrow Madness, Charlotte, NC, March 20, 2014! Contact me now to become internet famous.**

This is Engineers Unplugged, where technologists talk to each other the way they know best, with a whiteboard. The rules are simple:

  1. Episodes will publish weekly (or as close to it as we can manage)
  2. Subscribe to the podcast here: engineersunplugged.com
  3. Follow the #engineersunplugged conversation on Twitter
  4. Submit ideas for episodes or volunteer to appear by Tweeting to @CommsNinja
  5. Practice drawing unicorns

Join the behind the scenes by liking Engineers Unplugged on Facebook.

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With Cisco Cloud Management, FASTWEB Delivers New Value-Added Cloud Services

Imagine that you head the leading telecommunications provider in Italy and you are watching traditional service and revenue streams struggle under intense competitive pressure. Customer retention is a major issue because the types of services required by your residential and business clients are changing. Clearly, you need to retain customers and do so by offering new services. It is a generally known business fact that often it is more cost effective to invest in retaining customers than trying to get new ones in such competitive industries.

So, how would you do it?

FASTWEB, a Swisscom company, asked Cisco exactly that question. FASTWEB’s analysis indicated that offering cloud-based service delivery would be an excellent opportunity to retain existing business while capturing new revenue streams from Italian businesses looking for new IT solutions. But FASTWEB struggled with execution due to insufficient resources to develop and deliver these new services.

So, FASTWEB adopted Cisco’s Unified Data Center architecture which includes Cisco UCS Blade Servers and Intelligent Automation for Cloud (IAC). Cisco UCS servers were selected for performance, reliability, and the ability to integrate smoothly with other heterogeneous elements in their solution stack. They thoroughly analyzed cloud management solutions, and Cisco IAC scored the highest in their evaluation for:

• Openness and flexibility
• Ease of use by users and administrators
• Single management console access to the entire cloud service lifecycle
• Ability to build services without deep technical skills

FASTWEB

Teaming with Cisco Services, FASTWEB implemented cloud service delivery across six distinct use cases. Because of UCS they did so with minimum server hardware, gaining a complete cloud infrastructure that consumes only a few racks. With this Cisco Unified Data Center strategy and solution, FASTWEB estimates their customers can save around 50 percent over three years utilizing FASTWEB services compared to on-premises infrastructure.

FASTWEB2

What’s more FASTWEB relies on Cisco IAC to offer customers a portal that is intuitive with fast delivery thanks to strong automation and orchestration of all cloud elements, including network. None of their competitors in the Italian marketplace has an offering equal to this unified solution from Cisco.

Now FASTWEB’s cloud services are growing smoothly thanks to technology that scales as quickly as their business does. FASTWEB plans to expand its use of Cisco IAC to offer new services as such PaaS and SaaS for their customers.

Read more about FASTWEB’s implementation in this case study and this recent CiscoLive Milan presentation.

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