Cisco Makes Mainframes

February 18, 2010 at 11:55 am Leave a comment

“Now I know why tigers eat their young…”
– Rodney Dangerfield, Caddyshack

First, a caveat:  This is not a rant from a nattering nabob of negativism.  Quite the opposite, it’s about a positive point; it just so happens I’m using Cisco as a foil.  Roll film…

From IRG International’s February 2010 Infrastructure Newsletter:

“In a discussion about UCS [Cisco’s Unified Computing System], a Cisco VP observed that you can think of modern virtualized systems as “mainframes” made from standard components (ultimately X86 processors, Ethernet connectivity and commodity disk drives). When IBM introduced the System/360 back in 1964 IBM made essentially everything that went in including the transistors, the disks and the software…. ”

Yes, UCS is a black-box approach and one which some customers will elect to follow.  But it is the exception for modern systems architectures, not the rule; and the meaningful key to this distinction is “standard components.”  The mere existence of standard components implies… well… standards.  And standards imply customer choice and vendor heterogeneity, not technical lock-in.

The astounding power of the open systems revolution in the early ’90s was the fact that it took a previous near-monopolistic situation and turned it into a deeply competitive one.  Every part of the compute stack – CPU, server, OS, applications, management — became a discrete decision for the customer to optimize.  The concept of the “black box purchase” was superseded.  Customers benefitted from choice and competition, and industry growth took off at  breakneck speed.

Virtualization compounds this effect, it doesn’t reverse it.  It is one more relatively agnostic layer, neither hardware- nor application-dependent.

As an industry we are driving rapidly to a model of IT-as-utility, and those utility prices will be extremely efficient.  Therefore the power plants for those utilities must be based on a fundamentally new plane of price/performance.  In other words, the new world of IT architectures – compute, storage and networking – is one of intense standards leverage, buying power, and extraordinarily improved utilization models.

And virtualization.  Lots and lots of virtualization.

The great news is, those pieces already exist.  That’s why the industry at large is facing another major growth wave… because standards-based components and software layers are enabling the innovation to occur.


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