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Cisco touts self as Unified Computer System pioneer

Plans California's own data center

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Cisco Systems has been talking about its Unified Computing System, code-named California, so much for months now that it is hard to remember sometimes this mega product is still not shipping.

Turns out Cisco is its own first beta test customer, and the company's IT brass Wednesday was talking about its own plans for deployment.

The forum was CiscoTV - I kid you not - hosted by John Manville, vice president of IT at Cisco's network and data center services organization, and his boss, Chris Hynes, senior director of IT for the NDCS unit.

In case you have been on holiday or in a coma for the past two months, Cisco's California setup offers converged networking and server operations. That means Fibre Channel over 10 Gigabit Ethernet for linking servers to storage and 10 Gigabit Ethernet for linking servers to each other and to the outside world, and blade-style x64 servers for running applications based on Intel's Nehalem family of processors.

Toss in some vSphere virtualization compliments of VMware, some Cisco switch software running virtualized on ESX Server 4.0 VMs, and some BMC Software system management tools, shake well, and you have a California system. You get the specs of the California systems here, a general economic argument Cisco later made for California systems here, Intel's related Nehalem EP processor launch here, and VMware's vSphere 4.0 launch here.

Manville said the IT department's goal is always to be Cisco's "first and best customer," and to run the networking and now server gear in production environments as quickly as possible, with the aim of shaking out bugs and giving input on needed features before a product ships to real customers.

Cisco had a UCS setup running in its Mountain View, California, site before the launch of the product in March, and is planning to roll out California boxes as part of its normal x64 server upgrade cycle during the next two and a half years. By the end of that time frame all of its x64 instances will be running on its own California gear.

Cisco would not say how many x64 servers it has spread across its 52 data centers and server rooms worldwide, comprising 14 production and customer-facing data centers and 38 product development data centers and server rooms. All told, these data centers take up 215,000 square feet of space and burn more than 20 megawatts of juice.

About 30 per cent of the servers in these data centers are virtualized, and Manville said that the goal was to get somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent of the servers virtualized over the next few years. Cisco did not talk about the number of servers it has - I asked and was ignored - and the company did not talk about what other gear it must have supporting key manufacturing and ERP systems aside from x64 iron.

Many to many

Cisco has 300 locations in 90 countries and over 65,000 employees that work from 400 buildings. It's a big company and it is hard to believe that it doesn't have 10,000 to 20,000 servers, considering that it has 400 telepresence systems worldwide to run its company as well as the WebEx Web conferencing business unit to support.

By way of comparison, before it started its own data center consolidation effort in July 2005, Hewlett-Packard had 25,000 servers in 85 different data centers. After the compression of its data centers down to three mirrored facilities, HP cut the number of physical servers running its operations down to 14,000 and crammed them into a total of 342,000 square feet. HP doesn't have a WebEx business, but it does do application hosting.

Since March, the UCS setup in the Mountain View data center at Cisco has been used to run applications supporting John Chambers, the company's chairman and chief executive officer, as well as the Cisco news site. That machine also supports the legal and finance applications used by those respective departments. It is a small start, but that is what a beta test is.

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