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Cisco's Blade System Will 'Shake Up Market'

Cisco's big Unified Computing System (UCS) announcement Monday was long on buzz words and promises. In the space of 90 minutes, Cisco chief John Chambers and an impressive lineup of CEOs from around the industry waxed eloquently over a news announcement that lacked key details like pricing and exact hardware specs.

Most of what InternetNews.com uncovered last month has come true: the company is building blade servers designed for virtualization, using next-generation Nehalem processors, except Cisco didn't say which one.

There sat both Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) CEO Paul Otellini and Senior Vice President Pat Gelsinger, praising a Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) product that contains an Intel part that hasn't even been formally announced. Intel would not confirm or deny that the blades will come with the Nehalem-EP processor, which will be released under the Xeon X5570 brand and part name. Rumors peg a formal Intel announcement to March 30.

Cisco did provide more specifics about the UCS in an interview with InternetNews.com after the press event, though pricing, the exact amount of memory and choice of Nehalem processor have yet to be revealed.

The Cisco blades come in a 6U chassis, not 4U as originally believed, with eight blades per chassis as originally reported. Management software will handle up to 40 chassis, thus 320 blades total, all the while making the many blades appear as a single system to the administrator.

Cisco hasn't said how much memory will be included, but sources tell InternetNews.com it will be 384GB. That's three times as much as the 128GB max found on current blade servers. The company would only say there would be a vast amount of memory per unit.

The one thing there won't be a lot of is ports. Each blade will use PCI Express connectors from the blade to the fabric extender. These fabric extenders connect to a switch, which looks like a Nexus 5000 switch and resides in the chassis. There will be two models of switches with either 20 or 40 ports, according to Dante Malagrino, director of engineering in the server access and virtualization business unit at Cisco.

This eliminates the need for multiple ports as seen on the backs of other blade server chassis. Usually the back side of a blade chassis has up to eight ports for Ethernet, Fibre Channel, a storage area network (SAN) and/or server-attached SCSI (SAS). The UCS chassis has just two ports, and that's for redundancy purposes.

All the interconnects from the blade to the network go over a single wire to the Unified Fabric architecture. No more need for host bus adapters or fibre cables. "From a cost perspective, it means a lot fewer cables," Malagrino told InternetNews.com. "The cost of cables in a datacenter can be as high as 15 to 20 percent [of overall expenses]."

Cisco has deployed the UCS in one facility for testing and reduced the amount of cabling needed by 50 percent, Malagrino added.

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