Cisco competitors downplay new blade server

Dell, Brocade claim Cisco announcement prone to vendor lock-in and offers limited scope

As Cisco entered the blade server market with its hotly anticipated Unified Computing System Monday, competitors lined up to dismiss the new technology, saying it raises the problem of vendor lock-in and is too limited in scope to address broad customer needs.

Cisco introduced a blade server that is based on future Intel Nehalem processors and includes memory improvements to support applications with large data sets and allow the creation of many more virtual machines on each server. Partners such as EMC, VMware, Savvis, BMC and Microsoft joined Cisco in calling the UCS a major step forward in the data center. But Cisco's competitors offered several pieces of criticism.

A Dell executive calls Cisco's blade server a "one-size-fits-all" product that doesn't take into account the varied needs of customers.

"I think [Cisco is presenting] a very niche-focused approach," says Rick Becker, Dell's vice president of software and solutions. "We believe it can't just be a single blade appliance. You need a whole portfolio. You need to deploy blades where appropriate. You need to deploy rack servers when appropriate."

Cisco's new product seems to be "a blade appliance for large application data sets," Becker continues. "That's just a very small segment of the data center."

Blades are ideal for applications that span beyond 15 servers, but are wasteful for applications that only require three servers, because blades share resources like power and fans, Becker says.

Becker promises exciting news from Dell for both rack and blade servers when Intel releases its new Nehalem chips, but could not reveal details due to embargoes. While he acknowledges Cisco is now a competitor in the blade server market, he professes not to be worried. He also notes that Dell still partners with Cisco to deliver networking technology to Dell blade servers.

"I compete with HP, I compete with IBM, and I compete with Sun," Becker says. "And I am perfectly able, willing and ready to compete with Cisco in the server space."

Cisco stresses that its new technology is more than just a blade server, encompassing networking, storage and management features to create an architecture that lets data centers be managed as a unified environment.

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Cisco rival Brocade recognizes its competitor's attempt to create a "dynamic and virtualized data center" that will improve efficiency of power and operations, but accuses Cisco of locking customers in to just one vendor.

"Achieving this goal is a complex challenge that can be best tackled by a broad ecosystem of industry partners and not based on a proprietary, singular architecture of one company," Brocade said in a written statement. "In contrast, Brocade is already helping customers address these challenges by integrating our networking solutions with a range of mature computing, management and storage technologies from some of the strongest companies in the world. These partnerships are leveraging open interfaces/standards, co-developed technology, and products that are available today, which will lower costs and maximize return on investment for customers."

At Cisco's press conference Monday morning, the company surrounded itself with partners who were naturally more optimistic than Cisco's direct competitors. VMware CEO Paul Maritz said Cisco USC is a "cloud-grade" product that will accelerate the trend toward large-scale virtualization, and said it is incumbent upon the rest of the industry to partner with Cisco because "the whole stack has to work with them." Maritz also said there should no longer be any technical reasons to avoid virtualizing any workload, no matter how demanding it is.