Tremors Around Unified Computing


Cisco's Unified Computing Systems (UCS) is barely a month old and already it has caused major shockwaves in the IT tech industry -- without even so much as an actual deployment.

Whether the platform truly is revolutionary remains to be seen, but judging by reaction among other top-tier vendors, it certainly has the potential to ruffle quite a few feathers.

Take IBM, for example. Fresh off the UCS announcement last month, Big Blue strengthened its partnership with Brocade to begin distributing that company's switching and routing technology with IBM server and storage products. Now, the company is said to be close to lining up an OEM deal with Juniper, a move that could bring Juniper's massive new EX8216 "cloud switch" into the IBM fold where it could better compete with the Nexus 7000 switch that is a core component of the UCS platform.

Then there is HP, which recently signed a four-year partnership with Microsoft aimed at Unified Communication and Collaboration (UCC) services to be built around the Office Communications Server (OCS), Exchange and SharePoint platforms, with HP's ProCurve portfolio as the underlying fabric. How does this relate to unified computing? Well, like in Dune, you have to see the "plans within plans." As Gartner points out, linking ProCurve with OCS gives it a way into the VoIP space and will force Cisco to put more resources toward its service channel in order to foster greater VoIP/cloud collaboration.

Cisco is almost certainly up to that task, but there is no question that it will have to scramble a bit to keep its overall integration house in order. For the past decade or more, Cisco's top integration partners were HP and IBM, but the introduction of the 5100 blade server as part of the UCS platform seems to have cooled those relationships a bit. Here's hoping that EMC, VMware, Oracle and the various other Cisco partners can pick up the slack.

In the meantime, there is the strong possibility that Cisco might not have the unified computing model all to itself for much longer. Enabling technologies like Netronome's new NFP-32xx network flow processor promise to combine high-performance networking and security processing on general-purpose chips like the Intel IA. The device provides up to 40 multi-threaded programmable cores running at 1.4 GHz to deliver 20 Gbps of L2 to L7 deep packet processing. That gives it the ability to handle more than 56 billion instructions per second, all within a power window of 35 watts. And because the device uses software-defined virtual I/O, it can be used to replace dedicated FCoE, iSCSI, TOE and other devices with a more flexible architecture than can be quickly adapted to changing environments.

It seems that every decade or so, the firmament of the IT industry shifts along its fault lines. At the moment, we seem to be witnessing the minor tremors that sometimes, but not always, presage a major quake. What would it take for this to turn into "the big one?" Simple. The UCS platform has to be a big hit, and then we'll all have to hang on tight while the rest of the industry scrambles to reposition itself.