Savvis tests Cisco's new UCS and virtualization server

'Price does matter,' CTO says.

IT infrastructure service provider Savvis Inc. has been testing Cisco Systems Inc.'s Unified Computing System (UCS) for about three weeks and expects to take the technology to another level of evaluation later this year in a bake-off against conventional virtualization server providers, Savvis' chief technology officer said today.

"The UCS works well, but is now just involved in a shakedown ... and we're just to the point of stressing major features and functions," Savvis CTO Bryan Doerr said in a telephone interview. The company, which is based in Town & Country, Mo., outside St. Louis, has about 4,000 customers that receive network and data center services from 29 data centers that Savvis operates around the globe. The company is not taking any compensation for its beta test.

Doerr said the UCS could be a big part of moving Savvis to a more scalable virtualization approach, since today the company is focused "more on physical virtualization and cloud-based services that leverage conventional services such as VMware provides." He said the company has deployed "thousands of servers" globally.

But Doerr said the price of the UCS will be an important part of the evaluation. Cisco hasn't announced the price, but it said that UCS will support from one to 320 physical blades. "We're thinking of operating not just one of the 320 blade UCS's but many, and not one location, but globally," Doerr said.

Doerr said he has repeatedly urged Cisco officials to "always keep an eye on the price of UCS at scale for larger volumes since service providers need to see the benefit [of virtualization] at scale," he said. "Cost is more than simply the invoice cost, but [it] includes what kind of operation simplification is provided, and that's something we will evaluate. Price does matter."

Even though Cisco has introduced BMC Software Inc. as providing a management console for easily managing the movement of virtual machines inside of UCS, Doerr said that "BMC wouldn't be our first choice."

Doerr didn't offer any particular concerns about BMC, noting that he was unfamiliar with its products. He suggested that Savvis might want to use custom management software or software from another vendor. "We can find ways to use pieces [of UCS] we would keep and others we would not," he said. Cisco provides standard application programming interfaces (API) to allow companies such as Savvis to work with various kinds of software without requiring staffers to learn new programming skills, he said.

The big benefits of UCS, Doerr said, are its increase in memory and the integration of more memory into network switching, which Cisco provides along with a new Intel Nehalem processor. "That entire package makes an improvement over the operating of virtual machines," he said. "There are not that many alternatives to the classic server today."

Doerr said Cisco's vision intrigues him. "The point is that Cisco has reinvented the server, and they have done it with virtualization as its goal, as opposed to [building] servers that are retrofitted with virtualization," he said. As a result, Doerr said, Savvis is "able to create a value proposition in managed services work that is measurably and recognizably more efficient than what enterprises can do themselves."

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