The Battle for the Converged Data Center Network

Now that Cisco seems to be making headway with its UCS offering, many best-in-breed suppliers are changing their strategies to combine networking, computing, storage and even software elements. Here's an overview of data center equipment suppliers and their convergence strategies.

Lisa Huff

August 18, 2011

3 Min Read
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When Cisco announced its Unified Computing System (UCS) architecture several years ago, many industry experts thought it was a bold move fraught with risk because it could alienate companies like IBM and HP that had been partners of Cisco’s for years.

Now, Cisco seems to be making headway with its UCS offering and there are many top data center best-in-breed suppliers that are changing their strategies to match Cisco and combine networking, computing, storage and even software elements. Here's an overview of major data center equipment suppliers and their convergence strategies.

  • Brocade: Known for its Fibre Channel technology, Brocade moved into the Ethernet networking arena with its acquisition of Foundry Networks in 2008. It provides separate solutions for storage and networking and has yet to show that it is interested in getting into servers. It still relies on its channel partners like IBM and HP to provide these.

  • Cisco: UCS was introduced in 2008 but has just recently really started to be adopted. Of all the solutions, Cisco’s seems to be the most complete, but then again, it had a head start. Cisco’s system includes network, server, storage and virtualization and the networking giant claims it will "lower your total cost of ownership and increase business agility." Cisco has even gone so far as to participate in a joint venture called VCE – VMware, Cisco and EMC. It is providing specific equipment solutions for cloud computing based on what it calls "Vblock" technology.

  • Dell: By bundling Force10 switching with Dell’s compute and storage (including Compellent), Dell completes its converged data center offering. While this may be a good long-term strategy, it may cause some pain in short-term channel partnerships with switching vendors.

  • Extreme Networks: It has long been a premier supplier for Ethernet switches and routers, but has resisted the movement into the converged data center networking market. Instead, it has concentrated on providing networking solutions for cloud-computing functions.

  • Huawei Symantec: A joint venture that has server and storage offerings and has recently announced new networking equipment to complete its data center package.

  • IBM: Its acquisition of Blade Networks seems to have been a response to Cisco adding servers to its UCS. It has proven to be a necessity for IBM to keep pace with its direct competitors for servers and storage.

  • HP: Its server, storage and switching offering was augmented by the acquisition of 3Com. Whether it can leverage this to compete on par with Cisco remains to be seen.

  • Oracle: Well known for software that powers the Internet, Oracle combined this with Sun Microsystems equipment. It is still missing the networking piece, so it could be looking for an acquisition in this area.

In theory, the converged data center seems like a great idea, but it has proven to be a hard sell to data center managers for a few reasons:

  • Data Center Personnel: Most enterprise data centers still have disparate groups that are in charge of the separate functions. Networking managers in charge of Ethernet switching and server and storage professionals in a separate organization.

  • Initial Cost: Bundling servers, storage and networking equipment can be quite expensive all at once. Most organizations piecemeal their purchases due to budget constraints and the nature of project-by-project procurement methodologies.

  • Risk: It may be risky to purchase all of your IT equipment from one vendor. What happens if that vendor goes out of business?

Even with these factors, there are large data centers that are starting to deploy these converged solutions. What does a converged network solution look like? One example of one is colocation and managed services provider IPR International. The Cisco UCS underpins its cloud offering known as Zone IT. Here's a network diagram  (courtesy of IPR International).


IPR ZoneIT Network Diagram

Lisa Huff is a contributing editor for Data Center Knowledge. She is Chief Technology Analyst for and Principal Analyst at Discerning Analytics.

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