Feature Story

The Evolution of Data Center 3.0

by null

Cisco Unified Computing System just latest in a new generation of technology for the data center

March 16, 2009

By Charles Waltner

Data centers are made up of computer servers, networks, and storage systems. During the past 20 years, these three components have become islands unto themselves.

Now they need to be united.

Cisco took a major step towards this goal with the announcement of its pioneering Unified Computing System, which tightly integrates computer servers with the network. It is the culmination of a series of data center technologies the company has rolled out over the past year.

Rob Lloyd, executive vice president designate for worldwide operations says, "Cisco is unleashing the power of virtualization through Unified Computing—the industry's first unified architecture for the virtualized data center. We've collaborated extensively with an open, innovative ecosystem of best-of-breed partners to help ensure our customers realize the value of this exciting market transition."

Cisco has always provided networking gear to the data center, but its latest generation of products began with the January 2007 debut of the Cisco Nexus 7000 series, a massive and ultra-fast networking switch that will be the main brain for coordinating data center traffic.

Executing in the Data Center: Five Phases

In April it unveiled another member of its new data center equipment portfolio, the Nexus 5000, an extra smart and speedy switch for directing traffic among the different machines within a data center.

Then in September Cisco announced the industry's first virtual networking switch, the Nexus 1000V. The software creates a network inside servers to connect "virtual machines." Cisco built the switch in conjunction with VMware, which has worked closely with Cisco on many of its recent data center initiatives.

All of Cisco's recent efforts contribute to its Data Center 3.0 architectural vision. The company believes the network can serve as an orchestra leader of sorts for the data center, helping coordinate and streamline how these facilities provide the necessary resources to critical software applications for running everything from corporate payroll systems to Internet video sites.

As part of this vision, Cisco is working to unify the dizzying array of connection and networking standards among different parts of the data center.

Ed Bugnion, chief technology officer for Cisco's server access and virtualization business unit, says data centers are now burdened by having to run multiple parallel network connections – certain types for server-to-server connections, another type for Internet links and still others for storage systems. This requires a typical server to have from four to 10 different communications interfaces, raising the cost of each server and increasing administrative logistics.

Cisco is trying to address this by offering new networking technologies that can consolidate all data center communications on to one protocol known as Data Center Ethernet. Bugnion says this protocol is quickly becoming an industry standard and that it is a crucial building block to reducing data center complexity.

"The idea is to consolidate all network connections onto two lines, and to carry all traffic types simultaneously onto these lines," Bugnion says. "Two is the ideal number since it provides redundancy at the lowest cost"

Just as importantly, the Data Center Ethernet standard will provide the necessary capabilities for handling the kind of "virtualized" applications that will run on the new Cisco Unified Computing System, Bugnion says.

Charles Waltner is a freelance writer in Piedmont, Calif.