Keep Rocking that Blade Server Boat

May 27, 2011 - 1 Comment

I’m a big AC/DC fan.  While this certainly dates me to some degree, and may alienate me to the smooth jazz crowd,  it pertains to the story I will share about the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS). 

There is a lot of buzz  going around now about UCS, but I am not going to spend time here talking about server vendors competing for market share.  The real story is  about an industry long overdue for innovation and the customers who demand it.   The story starts several years ago when a very large bet was placed by some gutsy people at Cisco. A team was dispatched to undertake the daunting task of designing a system that really answered the emerging needs of the data center and, long story short, in 2009 UCS was born.  

At this point in server history, the industry offered customers several similar blade offerings which largely conformed to the same old basic layout.   We’ve all heard a thousand times how these designs delivered us from the evils of ballooning power and cooling costs, scarce data center floor space and cabling insanity.   In reality, they were just a packaging evolution that crammed complexity into a smaller box, which you could then replicate 10U at a time throughout your data center.  These designs also created new challenges such as, “who owns the switches in this d@mn thing?” 

Cisco seized the opportunity to approach customers with a revolutionary approach that went far beyond the mechanicals, offering capabilities that tackled some of the trickiest problems in the data center – the ones that couldn’t be fixed with nifty fans.  The list of breakthrough innovations was long.  Virtualization awareness, bare metal abstraction, self-integration, programmability, unified management control planes, role based administration.   On and on and on.  The UCS NDA presentation sessions were long and exhausting just for the sheer volume of crazy new ideas.  You had to bring in lunch.

Fast forward to present day and this is the key statistic that gives me pause:  the UCS customer count is 5400 and growing.  Why is this remarkable?  If choosing a vendor to supply rack servers is akin to speed dating, then choosing a supplier for blade servers is more like getting married, because components from different vendors are not interchangeable. Reaping the benefits of converged infrastructure requires commitment from an IT shop – and from the person charged with deciding which way to go.  By electing to deploy a particular blade architecture, customers place significant trust in that partner to supply a technology roadmap that will meet their needs for several years to come.

So in 2009 and 2010, customers were presented with a revolutionary architecture. But let’s be honest, it was very high on promise and low on track record.   It’s commonly held that IT professionals are a necessarily conservative lot. Many could easily have shrugged off Cisco’s science experiment and concluded “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”  Or HP.  Or Dell.  The IT pros could have kept doing things the same old way.

But some didn’t do that.  Some broke ranks with convention and chose to throw in their lot with the innovators.  They had the audacity to say to everyone around them: “we need to buy UCS, because there really is something better here.”  You can be certain many of them heard from colleagues, management, and the antibodies:  “Servers, from Cisco? Are you nuts?”  But they persisted.  They believed.  They wanted a better tool for the job.  They wanted a Unified Computing System, not just a blade server.  Over the past two years, thousands of these innovators put their reputations, and arguably their badges, on the line in the quest to take their IT practice and their business to a better place.   

And that, to me, is remarkable.   5,400 customers and counting.  These people have helped create a market transition.   On behalf of all the UCS innovators here at Cisco, to you, the customers who rocked the blade server boat:  we salute you!  …. And for those about to rock, we salute you too.

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  1. I’m a big AC/DC fan too! Great!