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Cisco UCS gaining serious steam

Interest in Cisco UCS is at an all time high among virtualization users.

Among virtualization users, interest in Cisco's Unified Computing System, or UCS, is snowballing.

According to TechTarget’s Virtualization Decisions 2011 Purchasing Intentions Survey, Cisco Systems Inc.'s UCS is the primary virtualization platform for just 5.76% of respondents, trailing a distant fourth behind Dell Inc. (37.1%), Hewlett-Packard Co. (36.64%) and IBM Corp. (12.9%). However, when polled about their plans for the coming year, a whopping 19.82% identified Cisco UCS as their platform of choice, up 12.3% from the previous year.

These are large numbers for UCS, which was only introduced in 2009, and which enjoys just under 10% of the worldwide blade server market, according to IDC. Clearly, interest in UCS is even higher among virtualization users.

Virtualization users’ affinity for UCS is partly explained by Cisco’s close connection with VMware, plus virtualization-friendly features -- such as extended memory, which boosts the virtual host’s memory to a maximum of 384 GB for a two-socket system using lower-cost memory DIMMs.

That was one of the things that appealed to Rod Gabriel, IT infrastructure engineer at United Financial Services, a Wisconsin financial services company. Last year, the company bought two UCS chassis filled B250 blades with Extended Memory, and it’s looking to expand on its UCS domain with an additional production chassis and another at a disaster recovery site.

Back then, the decision to go with UCS was met with a lot of raised eyebrows, Gabriel said. “There was definitely a lot of skepticism about whether [UCS] was going to be a flash in the pan,” he said. “Now I regularly get people coming up to me at [VMware User Group] meetings, telling me that they’re actively looking at it.”

Gabriel has no regrets. “It’s met or exceeded all of my expectations,” and barring one minor problem, has “worked flawlessly.”

But UCS’ success may not be about the product in and of itself, but also about the sorry state of its competitors, including HP.

HP BladeSystem users report that legendary HP quality has slipped of late, precipitating a move to an alternate platform.

“I spent 250 hours on the phone last year just dealing with HP firmware,” said Ed Bailey, an IT architect at a large U.S. financial services firm who is overseeing the migration of about 500 hosts in his environment from HP BladeSystem to Cisco UCS. “I don’t just know the name of HP’s Sunday morning support woman, I know the name of all her kids.”

Implementing UCS also resulted in improved transaction times over the HP environment and is easier to manage, since all the chassis in the environment can be managed from a single UCS Manager instance; with BladeSystem, management happens per chassis. The built-in 10 Gb interfaces have also dramatically reduced the amount of cabling and attending management.

“We retired 600, 1 Gb ports down to 65, 10 Gb ports,” Bailey said. “Just imagine the management savings.”

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, Executive Editor at, or follow @aebarrett on twitter.


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