I was reviewing some documentation the Cisco web site for an architectural white paper and came across this image in some marketing material
What this image clearly shows is that the UCS strategy is really about getting a fancy NIC into a server.
Each blade has a fabric connection card to the UCS 6100 (fabric interconnect), which then connects to a Nexus 5000 (the fabric master).
Why does this matter ?
Simple. Lets consider HP and their C-Class chassis. HP has their “Virtual Connect” strategy for blade servers with the NonStop fabric that connect all the servers via the mezzanine cards to Interconnect modules. Interconnect modules support Fibrechannel, Infiniband and Ethernet and so on. This means that HP can control all the choices that the customer can make for the servers because they “own” the design of the blade server chassis.
When bladeservers were first released, IBM and HP had Cisco develop modules that could be installed. More recently though, IBM has stopped even offering Cisco switches for large parts of its portfolio and HP is quite hostile – in the “HP Virtual Connect for Cisco Network Administrators” they refer to the Cisco switches as “traditional approach to administering the network”. Thats got to smart a bit.
Want to bet that HP didn’t want to play ?
Why wouldn’t HP want Cisco to provide the networking ? My guess is that HP has networking under development and they are freezing Cisco out of the data centre. HP has made substantial inroads at the edge of the network with their ProCurve products. The Data Centre network is an entirely logical next step. Its incremental, extends their server expertise / portfolio and integration and can easily be sold to existing customers through the server teams.
So HP might have shut Cisco out?
So Cisco does servers ?
I think HP did so. HP used the Tandem acquisition to put the NonStop server fabric into their blade servers, then built networking modules that positioned them as competitors to Cisco. This was probably some time in 2007.
Cisco response has been to build a network fabric, functionally similar to the NonStop server fabric, but with much deeper integration into the network offering much greater virtualisation of the storage and network layers. This is consistent with their current marketing message around their network history (although, with video, voice and home products who knows what Cisco is really about these days).
And its all about the message
This gives Cisco a “message” that their product is “different” from HP or IBM. A differentiator like this can be used to initiate new opportunities with customers – to make that into English, you can approach the CIO / CTO and try and flog your new strategy. They had to make some new technologies such as FCoE and all its supporting technology, but that’s just a few broken eggs.
And they had to build the blade servers. Obviously. If Cisco didn’t make their own servers no-one else was going to put Cisco networking in. Easy decision from that perspective, and John Chambers is an ambitious man. Growing the business in the data centre by extending into the server farm makes logical sense. Remember, HP is likely to extend from the server into the network, so meeting them in the market is natural. Especially with the hype about Cloud Computing developing over the last two years.
But the actual servers are not different from anything else in the market. They are a little bit ahead of the curve, but HP/IBM will there with similar products in a few months.
Its all about the network.
So, where is the Special Sauce ?
The HP Virtual Connect system does Ethernet, Fibrechannel and Infiniband as separate elements or mezzanine cards.
Cisco uses a single Ethernet fabric to do all of this. By creating FCoE from nothing, Cisco can combine all storage and network access over a single Layer 1 connection. To tick off the marketecture:
- no fibrechannel = less components = less power & cost
- unified fabric = less configuration = less OpEx
- unified fabric = less equipment = less CapEx
- unified fabric = more flexibility = service automation = cloud computing (BINGO!)
You get the idea, I am sure.
HP and Cisco – Frenemies ?
I wrote something about this here
As a designer, this little graphic made UCS much more comprehensible. The marketing message that UCS is some sort of revolution has obscured my thinking. I was looking for rocket science, and all I got was marketing smoke. And some bendy mirrors.
But I wish they would use nice smelling smoke next time. This one still smells a bit fishy.