Cisco Serves Notice: No More Mr. Nice Guy!

Back in 2009 when announced it was entering the server market, it was a really big WTF moment, especially for the dominant server vendors (IBM and HP), and since then, its have been growing at 30% a year. In what it is calling the biggest UCS announcement ever (penultimate perhaps, unless you exclude itself) the networking giant is broadening its server lineup and reaching beyond its base to , branch and .

The expanded portfolio includes the M-Series Modular Servers for -scale applications, the Mini for small-scale and enterprise-edge environments, fourth-generation and for application performance, and new solutions to manage infrastructure workloads. “This is a watershed moment for UCS, which makes it a watershed moment for Cisco” Todd Brannon, Director of Product Marketing, Unified Computing, told ITALS IT Trends & Analysis.

Growing at 30% a year is impressive, even if you’re starting off from zero, and are apparently yet to turn a profit. Cisco claims a current run rate of $3 billion annually, and gross margins 25-50% (25-30%) higher than the server average of 20%. It has more than 36,000 customers and almost 90% penetration of the Fortune 500, said Brannon.

It’s really impressive when the overall server market just reported (Gartner) a 2.8% increase in revenues on a 1.3% increase in shipments. HP (25.1%) out-dueled IBM (22.4%) for top spot in the $12.69B second quarter, followed by Dell (17.4%), Oracle (5.8%) and Cisco (5.7%, a year-over-year increase of 35%).

IDC’s numbers were pretty consistent with Gartner’s, and provided some context for Cisco’s latest announcements. “Modular servers – blades and density-optimized – represent distinct segments of growth for vendors in an otherwise mature market,” said IDC’s Jed Scaramella, Research Director, Enterprise Servers and Datacenter. “As the building block for integrated systems, blade servers will continue to drive enterprise customers along the evolutionary path toward private clouds. On the opposite side of the spectrum, density-optimized servers are being rapidly adopted by hyperscale datacenters that favor the scalability and efficiency of the form factor.”

Demand for servers in the public cloud continues to be a major driving force for server market growth,” said Kuba Stolarski, Research Manager, Enterprise Servers. “While many of the largest of these companies have already undergone periodic datacenter expansions over the past year, public cloud demand for new servers will continue to outpace the general market in the immediate future.”

“The competition is going to freak out, because they’re not expecting all of this from us,” said Paul Perez, VP of Cisco’s data center group. Having “solidified” their place in the datacenter, their goal “isn’t just to be the best in blades. It’s to be the best in computing.”

The M Series is less about customer segment and more about workloads, said Brannon. In addition to taking a scale-out workload-based approach, i.e. weather forecasting, oil and gas exploration, traditional clustered applications, the new system enables service providers that been using UCS for heavy cloud applications the flexibility to scale out for smaller workloads, i.e. gaming.

The Mini addresses two new server segments, he said. “First, for our large customers that need to put compute beyond the data center… they can now take that out to the branch or remote site.” Second, it packages all of Cisco’s systems into a data center in a box that the company and its more than 3,600 channel partners can now offer to the midmarket.

Looking ahead, Brannon said will continue to extend the UCS platform, “adding more blades and tools to the Swiss Army knife”, particularly around form factors and partnerships like those existing with SAP and Intel. “Where we go from here is wide open.”

In other UCS news, Cisco has temporarily halted shipments of its Invicta flash storage appliance because some customers have been “experiencing quality issues in deployments.” UCS Invicta, which Cisco launched in January, uses technology from its $415 million acquisition of flash storage vendor Whiptail last September.

“Our customers expect the same quality, simplicity and customer experience from Invicta as they’ve become accustomed to with other Cisco products, so we decided to put a temporary hold on shipments while we address those deployment and experience issues,” the spokesperson said in an email.

Cisco expects to resume UCS Invicta shipments “later this fiscal quarter,” which ends in late October, the spokesperson said.

The Fiddly Bits (& Bytes)

Cisco UCS M-Series Modular Servers deliver breakthrough levels of operational efficiency for cloud service providers and enterprise customers who increasingly rely on scale-out application architectures. Cisco UCS C3160 Rack Server, featuring high-capacity local disk storage, is ideal for distributed data analytics and object stores, unstructured data repositories, and media streaming and transcoding.

Cisco UCS Mini all-in-one solution delivers servers, storage and networking in a compact form factor that is easy to deploy and operate, bringing the benefits of UCS simplicity and IT automation to a new segment of customers.

Details include:

-UCS B200 M4 Blade Server, C220 M4 and C240 M4 Rack Servers continue Cisco’s tradition of world-record application performance across a diverse range of workloads;

-UCS Director Express for Big Data creates a seamless management and automation environment that unifies big data and enterprise applications. Cisco innovation in partnership with SAP and Intel now delivers a single management pane for combined SAP HANA and Hadoop infrastructure.


The Mini started shipping a month ago.

The fourth generation servers will GA in September and early October; and the M Series will debut in December.

Author: Steve Wexler

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