Cisco saves $300m with service-oriented data centres

Cisco Systems has restructured its core infrastructure to align with the concept of service-oriented data centres which enable network, storage, and computer power on-demand and have saved itself $300 million in the process.

Brian Christensen, Cisco's IT infrastructure director for data centre systems, said rather than use the already adopted phrases for the automatic provisioning of IT infrastructure, he prefers the term "flexible data centre" to describe what can viewed as a "service-oriented data centre", a concept Cisco IT has focused on for the past three years.

Christiansen, who said his job gives him the viewpoint of "an end user, not a vendor", is in Sydney today for the EMC Inform conference. "[Cisco's CEO] John Chambers expects IT to enable business strategy and productivity within the company," he said.

Christensen said in finding ways to collaborate in a "flattened world", the data centre is becoming central to the provisioning of all services.

"At Cisco, we like to use the network to automate services [so] internally I created an application called service-oriented data centre to provision storage, computing power, and networks for applications," he said.

With Cisco's data centre transforming the way the vendor works, Christensen said, it is assisting the fast opening of new offices around the world as the company expands into new markets.

"In the longer term is automated storage, computing and network services," he said, adding it is about end-to-end delivery and should be available commercially in one to two years in the form of a service-oriented data centre.

Cisco has about 11,148 square metres of data centre space around the world, 10,000 servers running a mixture of Linux, Unix and Windows, and four petabytes of storage capacity. Between six and seven megawatts of power is required to keep the data centres running.

One of Christensen's key directives was to increase storage utilization, which five years ago was growing at 60 to 70 percent a year, but utilization was low. The company entered into the SAN fibre channel space to be able to connect everything across data centres. Since then it has doubled storage utilization from 35 to 70 percent.

Cisco uses EMC storage and virtualization software from VMware to maintain high levels of utilization. It has also moved information from direct-attached storage to SAN architectures.

"Servers at Cisco in the past had their own hard disks, but now they are diskless," he said. "With the next generation of storage virtualization we are able to provide easier data tiering."

He said Cisco is also doing a lot of work to consolidate business applications to an active-active state across data centres. Christensen cited communication service being delivered out of Hong Kong as an example of this consolidation.

"I'm a leading edge adopter of technology and we're well ahead of other high-tech companies," Christensen said.

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