Cisco Refreshes UCS, but Customers and Channel Wary

Cisco has refreshed its Unified Computing System (UCS) offerings, putting the upgrades in an ostentations marketing box labeled Data Center 3.0.

The new gear puts more meat on the bones of UCS, making clear that Cisco is serious about its pursuit of data-center hegemony. The questions now is, when and to what extent will customers demonstrate more than exploratory interest in Cisco’s vision?

Feedback form customers, channel partners, and analysts suggests that Cisco has many challenges to overcome. Although Cisco claims to have more than 400 UCS customers and says the infrastructure upgrade will result in further patronage, analysts tell Network World that UCS demand seems lukewarm, with deployments taking the form of trials rather than production systems.

Meanwhile, an article at SearchITChannel.com suggests that prospective customers have concerns about integrating elements of UCS with their existing data-center infrastructure. Resellers are said to have reservations about Cisco’s pricing structure, too.

For its part, Cisco counters that UCS is as conducive to incremental upgrades in existing data centers as it is to wholesale deployment at new facilities. Cisco says UCS will interoperate with systems-management consoles and frameworks from BMC, IBM, CA, Hewlett-Packard, and Symantec. The networking giant also says it offers an API and developer toolkit that allows ISVs and partners to integrate offerings into a UCS environment.

Still, many customers with existing data centers are skeptical, even though Cisco argues that UCS isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition suitable only for greenfield data centers.

Illuminata’s Jonathan Eunice seems to have it right when he says Cisco is targeting big-game, high-value deployments of server complexes instead of single, standalone servers. At least at headquarters, Cisco is aiming high, focusing on ambitious data-center consolidation, virtualization, and automation. Field sales representatives and channel partners might be more willing to compromise, though.

Sales, after all, will be the ultimate measure by which UCS will be judged, and not just by Cisco. To quote Eunice:

“I think it’s still in the kicking the tires phase. Cisco is not a traditional vendor in the server space. This is really not even through the first full year of shipment. They have not disclosed a long list of massive sale, whereas you go to HP or IBM they have tons of references for any size sale.”

The next time Cisco does a UCS announcement, it should bring along lots of fresh sales bookings and customer references. The company cannot afford Data Center 3.0 to be perceived as nothing more than a marketing construct.

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