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Cisco's New Blades Will Target Virtualization

Cisco Systems will introduce "Project California," a blade system specially tuned for virtualized environments, at an event in San Francisco on March 16, InternetNews.com has learned.

The news comes as talk surfaces around Cisco's other strategies to ramp up its virtualization portfolio: namely, through an acquisition of VMware or its parent, EMC. So far, those talks never moved beyond an initial phase, although industry observers and Wall Street continue to watch for signs of renewed discussions among the three.

For the time being, however, Cisco's efforts in virtualization focus primarily on the launch of its new blade system. According to a source familiar with the products, the blades will be based on Intel's Core i7 processors and come with up to 192GB of memory, well above the maximum capacity of 128GB in today's blades. Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) recently announced it would begin shipping Core i7 Xeon processors, codenamed Nehalem-EP, as part of its Xeon 5000 series.

The blades include a PCI-Express connection, allowing them to connect to Cisco's (NASDAQ: CSCO) high-speed Unified Fabric architecture. These connections also give the blades very fast Ethernet access to both the network and storage devices and eliminate the need for a storage-area network (SAN). Instead, the blades would talk directly to the storage servers.

The blade servers are believed to come with Cisco's Nexus 5000 switches embedded in the chassis, which support the Unified Fabric and is built to be virtualization-ready. The servers will also feature tight integration with and support for VMware software.

This would put computing and networking power all in a single box. "It's more of making the computer part of the network, thus Unified Computing," said the source, turning Sun Microsystems's infamous "The network is the computer" slogan on its ear.

The term "Unified Computing" was first floated by Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior in a January blog post, where she described it as "the advancement toward the next generation data center that links all resources together in a common architecture to reduce the barrier to entry for data center virtualization.

"In other words, the compute and storage platform is architecturally 'unified' with the network and the virtualization platform," she added.

A spokesperson for Cisco declined to comment on the story.

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