SAN JOSE, Calif. Hungry for growth, Cisco Systems has jumped into the server business, using advances in silicon, networking and virtualization to seek an edge over veterans such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard. Cisco's Unified Computing System underscores key trends in data center design, but the company faces stiff competition in a complex and maturing market.
The news marks the second time this year that chief executive John Chambers launched the network giant into a large market where it is a relative newcomer. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Cisco announced a media server and audio players for the digital home, leveraging its Linksys acquisition to drive the Cisco logo into a broader role in consumer electronics.
Now Chambers wants to see that logo get more space in data centers that are increasingly the host for tomorrow's applications in an emerging cloud computing era. By adding servers to its offerings in networking, the company aims for a broader play as a systems integrator at the level of IBM and HP.
"We address less than high single digits of the data center market today," Chambers said a launch at the company's headquarters here. "With this offering we can talk about 25 percent or more of the data center market."
The company estimated its Unified Computing System can address a $20 billion slice of the overall $85 billion data center market. Cisco claims UCS provides lower capital and operational costs and is easier to manage than competing systems.
To date, IBM, HP, Sun Microsystems and others have focused on delivering server blades, large chassis that can house a number of servers along with networking and storage capabilities. Sun has even rolled out a shipping container with multiple racks of such systems and related gear as a large building block for increasingly massive data centers.
Cisco's UCS design follows the trend by including both network switches and as many as 320 server blades all managed as a single system. Under the hood, the company is using a handful of new and existing ASICs to differentiate its offering.