Cisco seeks to increase data center installations

Cisco Systems Inc. unveiled a data center marketing strategy that's designed to put its networking products and technical support services squarely in the middle of the on-demand computing trend.

As part of its Business Ready Data Center initiative, Cisco plans to combine existing products into an offering tailored for uses within US data centers. The company said it will also partner with Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. to align technology architectures for joint customers and share guidance on best practices.

In addition, two makers of blade servers will develop systems integrated with Cisco's networking technology by year's end, said Jonathan Gilad, Cisco's manager of enterprise solutions. Gilad wouldn't name either manufacturer.

Cisco also plans to publish design and deployment guides with tips on how to implement data center networks, and it will add customer service and support programs geared to data center applications.

The initiative is aimed at helping users build on-demand data centers that rely on IT virtualization capabilities to shift storage and computing resources between applications as needed, Gilad said. "The network itself is an absolutely critical piece for on-demand or utility computing," he added.

Business Ready Data Center is "really more of a marketing concept of bringing a bunch of products and services together under one umbrella," said Jim O'Donnell, vice president of telecommunications at Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto.

Royal Bank of Canada, which operates under the name RBC Financial Group, spends "millions of dollars annually" on Cisco products, O'Donnell said. As a member of Cisco's global customer advisory board, RBC had urged the vendor to develop a data center initiative, he added.

RBC is already seeing data center efficiencies through the use of on-demand-like capabilities, according to O'Donnell. For example, it consolidated various Internet banking applications on a group of networked servers, instead of running one application on each system. "This protects you if one server is having a problem," he said.

Until now, Cisco has sold switches and routers for data center uses "by accident" as part of wider networking deals, said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. Kerravala added that an overt data center approach makes sense for Cisco because computing and networking are coming together as never before. "Cisco can sell switching and routing boxes, or they can try to sell architectures," he said.

Lots Pook, chief technology officer at Exempla Healthcare in Denver, said that even though Cisco is just repackaging technology it already offers, the new initiative is a good move in response to the acceleration of on-demand computing needs.

"On-demand is going to revolutionize an organization like ours," he said. As processing workloads fluctuate, Exempla wants to refocus computing power across its two existing hospitals and a third one that's under construction. Pook added that virtualization could help him avoid the need to increase the size of the network pipes between the hospitals.

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