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Cisco touts self as Unified Computer System pioneer

Plans California's own data center

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Rather than rip and replace, Cisco already had Nexus 7000 switches - which have the converged Fibre Channel over Ethernet fabric - in place in the data center, so it slide the California blade servers in without using their variant of these switches.

The UCS box is supporting virtual desktops in the Mountain View officer as well as various virtual machines to host those legal and financial applications. And, it is even running a unvirtualized instance of an Oracle database that runs behind the financial and legal applications, demonstrating that California is not just for virtualized workloads.

Hynes said Cisco is also building a new 10,000 square foot data center that will sport UCS gear from the getgo. The exact configuration of the data center is yet to be determined, and Cisco did not divulge its location, but considering that it will be a one megawatt facility, it won't be that hard to find it.

To demonstrate the benefits of its Unified Fabric networking and Unified Computing System approaches, Hynes walked through some comparisons of how this data center might be built using traditional rack servers from a few years ago, then converged networking, and then California systems.

Hidden costs

With a traditional design, Cisco figures it could get 135 racks of blade servers into the 10,000 square foot data center, and that the servers and storage in that data center would require 4,320 Fibre Channel cables and 2,160 copper cables for networking. Of the one megawatts of power allocated to the data center, 247 kilowatts would end up going to storage, 186 kilowatts would go to the data center network, and another 79 kilowatts would go to other networking equipment. This would leave only 488 kilowatts left over for the servers.

By moving to Unified Fabric switches, Cisco can cut the rack count to 72, cut Fibre Channel links down to 1,008, and cut Ethernet links down to 300. When you take into account the power savings from the unified switches, that would leave 634 kilowatts available for the servers - about 30 per cent more than with traditional cabling and switching.

You may laugh at the cabling savings, but on such a project, lashing together the blade servers to their switches and storage - including cabling, patch cords, and labor - would run to $2.7m, but the simplified Unified Fabric approach would only cost $1.6m - a 40 per cent savings.

Now, add in the California blades. How many virtual machines can Cisco cram into this 10,000 square foot data center? With a traditional blade server approach, Cisco reckons it could cram 720 servers into this space and it could get between 7,000 and 7,500 virtual machines on those blade servers.

Cisco said to call it a 10 to one virtual compression ratio, so make it 7,200 machines. With Unified Fabric and the power savings, Cisco believes it can get somewhere between 930 and 1,080 servers into that data center, which would yield 9,300 to 10,800 VMs in the space.

Now, shift to the California blades. The increased efficiency of the blade servers made by Cisco - and the Nehalem processors from Intel - would allow somewhere between 1,200 and 1,400 blade servers to be packed into that new data center, which yields 12,000 to 14,000 VMs.

And when the memory expansion technology ASIC for the California systems is ready later this year, allowing more memory per blade than standard Nehalems allow - I have heard 384GB instead of the 192GB on regular Nehalems - then the number of VMs will double again, to 24,000 to 28,000 VMs.

Numbers game

Look at the virtualization effect: 720 unvirtualized, bare metal blade servers translates into as much as 28,000 virtual machines, if Cisco's math works out in the real world. We'll be watching to see how this turns out, just like Cisco's potential customers and its new competitors will be as well.

While Cisco was not specific about its plans for rolling out UCS throughout its other data centers, Manville did say UCS will be the backbone of Cisco's internal cloud computing effort, dubbed Cities, which is short for Cisco IT Infrastructure Elastic Services.

Manville said that the company's goal was to deploy as many applications as made sense on an internal cloud and then create a hybrid cloud that mixes internal Cisco resources and external public cloud resources.

And you can bet Cisco is hoping, with the kinds of numbers it's talking about, that the cloud providers on the other side of its firewall and linked to its own Cities cloud will be using Cisco's UCS gear.

Bootnote: Cisco contacted El Reg after reading this story and said that it has 13,866 physical servers across its data centers. It did not provide a breakdown of the servers by type, but it is fair to assume that most of them are x86 and x64 machines. ®

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