The Rise of Cisco UCS and the Cisco Services Data Center Transformation Experience

March 30, 2012 - 3 Comments

March 2009 was an exciting time for both for Cisco and for me personally.  Cisco launched the revolutionary Unified Computing System, with many observers across the industry doubting if we’d stay the course (and if we’re honest, some truly misplaced derision – I wonder who is on Planet Zircon now!).  And I joined the Cisco Data Center Services team from the Cisco R&D organization!  So with the recent third generation launch of Cisco UCS, described very well by my colleague Todd Brannon, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on our data center services portfolio around that time, and where we are now.  My previous blogs chronicle part of this journey, however I have to say, the direct comparison I draw here I personally think shows that we have indeed brought a new transformational experience to the data center for our customers. And I’d like to give you my personal recollections on how and what I found out about Cisco’s approach to shaking the incumbents’ lack of innovation in the blade server market.

In January 2009, a few months prior to the launch of Cisco UCS, I’d (as you would expect) no idea that we were about to launch a sustained assault on the blade server market.  I was working in the Cisco R&D team for network management, focused on the server provider market.  I had decided it was time to do something new, and I applied internally for a position in the Advanced Services Product Management team, focused on data center. I previously worked in the IT function of Sun Microsystems in Scotland, which was my data center background (and a fabulous place to work) – however that was a while back (1990-1994 – yes I’m that old! 🙂 ) and my knowledge of data center challenges was dated.  I started to look around, and I couldn’t believe what I had been missing in the data center.  Every industry magazine I picked up to prepare for the interview, every web site I looked at, talked about the challenges of the data center.  Power requirements.  Green issues.  Sprawl issues.  Domination of the data center market by incumbents who were doing “more of the same” (and in many case still are!).  What had I been missing while working in service provider?!  I was sold and jumped into the new role, working with a whole bunch of fantastic people in the process, in many parts of the world.

I heard about “Project California” (Cisco’s original project codename for UCS).  And to be honest I was shocked to see some of the industry rumours already out there via Google search.   I personally was quite surprised – in a way – that we were about to enter the blade server market.  However I knew from working in Cisco since 2000, that this is what we do in Cisco. Many industry observers (still) think that Cisco doesn’t innovate internally, but uses acquisitions to achieve innovation.  I joined Cisco via an acquisition in 2000.  So I knew, from 9 years as part of Cisco R&D, that such observations were completely off-base – sure we acquire for innovation, but that’s only part of the strategy.   I knew that Cisco invests substantially in internal innovation (I’d see this every day in my time in Cisco’s R&D organization).  And I knew from experience that we were in this for the long haul- and still are.  So when May 2011, IDC reported that Cisco held the number 3 market share position (and number 2 position in the US), I reflected again: this is just what we do in Cisco.

So back to the Cisco Data Center Service capabilities.   At the start of 2009, our data center services portfolio was structured around our core strengths in data center networking, and nascent areas of data center virtualization and data center facilities design, as shown in the diagram below.  Industry observers – perhaps understandably – questioned our launch of Cisco UCS and data center focus in terms of whether we could compete with the services capabilities of some of the incumbents, whether we had both breadth and depth of capability and talent.  They understood that professional services were a key part of a data center player’s offering.  In Cisco, we fully understood this too.  Quite a few of the observers back in March 2009 doubted our resolve in this market.  Too many under-estimated what Cisco can do when we enter a new market.

Cisco Data Center Services Portfolio 2008

Cisco Data Center Services Portfolio 2008

So as we do in Cisco, we focused on the longer term and the market transition.  We worked with pioneering customers across the globe as we built our services capabilities.  We replicated and scaled globally.  We helped many customers transform their data center.  We helped many customers introduce new cloud-based services, helping to transform their business opportunities and competitiveness.  I reflected again: this is just what we do in Cisco.

In the meantime, our competitors told you myths about the “good enough network”.  And over-promised yet under-delivered.  And blustered more about Cisco UCS and their not-quite-good-enough networking.

Fast forward now to 2012.

Cisco Data Center Services Portfolio Evolution 2008-2012

As you can see from the diagram above, since 2009, we’ve added many new globally-scaled service capabilities to our portfolio. We’ve enabled the deployment of Cisco UCS in many of our customers.  We are one of the leading professional services providers for cloud (more on this in a future blog).   We’ve combined internal innovation and capability development with close partner relationships.  We use close partnerships with leading specialists to jointly deliver Data Center Facilities Design and Application Migration Services.

And we’ve continued to deliver customers a data center transformation experience.    We helped theTatts Group in Australia reduce networking outages by 80%, while gaining 10 times in core networking capacity (enabling business growth) via a data center consolidation program.    We helped Savvis set the bar for enterprise cloud, by creating a new class of enterprise cloud services.  We enabled Carecore to progress their vision for evidence-based medicine with the VCE Vblock platform.  At EMC, we transformed the end user experience with the Oracle E-Business suite, replacing a legacy compute platform with Cisco UCS.   We transformed the business model at Italian integrator TSF, where Cisco UCS was the platform for their cloud transformation (a personal favourite of mine since it was the first Cisco UCS deployment in Europe, and the first I was involved in, not long after joining the Cisco Data Center Services team in Europe).   We primed and delivered a substantial data center migration project for Molina Healthcare, reducing network application traffic by 80% in the process. Who says all we want to do is sell more networking gear?  At Cisco, it’s about customer satisfaction.

I could go on.  Suffice to say, this is just what we do in Cisco.  It’s been an exciting 3 years in Cisco Data Center Services.  It’s been an exciting time for me personally, as I hope I’ve conveyed here.  If this is what we’ve done in the first 3 years, what does the future hold?!  Get in touch and we can help you with the Cisco Services Data Center Transformation Experience.

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  1. Great post Stephen. Cisco IT has seen tremendous improvements by moving core applications over to UCS. We have some excellent case studies documenting our IT journey over at:

    • Yes, Aaron, there is nothing like using our own products – the real proof of the pudding, so to speak – especially as internal users can often be your most critical. I used to work in a start up company, back in the 1990s, that developed a software development tool …. when we were small, our PCs were not fast enough to run our own software product. “We’ll use our product when we get faster PCs” we used to say. Eventually we did get faster PCs. However we – as software developers – didn’t use our own product in our software development. It struck me, “how can we expect customers to use our product (from this startup company) … if we don’t use it ourselves?” Needless to say I decided quite soon after this it was time to leave this company!

      It is great to see how we have used UCS inside Cisco, replacing the legacy approach. And I know we had Cisco UCS deployed for some key production applications *before* the V1.0 FCS. All fantastic validation

  2. Great article Stephen. Loved your story of the journey