Cisco pits modular storage servers against public clouds

The modular S-Series servers let enterprises mix and match storage and computing for flexibility

Cisco Systems is finding its way into storage through its successful server business. On Tuesday, it’s introducing modular systems that can be deployed with many different combinations of computing and storage capacity.

Though it’s not Cisco’s first foray into storage, the UCS S3260 Storage Server offers a density and a freedom of configuration that stands out against other systems, even competing on cost with public cloud services, the company says.

The server was announced at the Cisco Partner Summit in San Francisco. It’s the first entry in Cisco’s S-Series, a line of systems designed to serve both enterprises and companies that provide cloud services to others.

Cisco says the S-Series servers will cost companies 50 percent less than leasing public-cloud resources, counting all costs over time. While hardware carries a one-time purchase price, clouds have regular fees that never end. With Cisco financing, the initial costs may even be lower, the company says. If that sounds kind of like buying a car, it is. Discounts, too, can affect network equipment prices.

Granted, this is comparing cloud computing to “could computing.” The fees for a cloud service could go up in the next several years, or they could go down. The hardware you buy could be a perfect fit, or it could be less ideal for your needs in a few years.

There are so many variables, it’s hard to know how a given company’s spending will stack up, said 451 Group analyst Steven Hill.

“I always take those kinds of calculations with a grain of salt,” Hill said.

Still, the S-Series packs a lot of storage and computing into a pretty small space, which has inherent cost advantages. In the case of the first S-Series product, the UCS S3260 Storage Server, there’s room for 600TB of storage in a 4U (7-inch-high) system, if it’s fully dedicated to storage. With the 2U storage servers that are typical now, including Cisco’s own UCS C240 Rack Server, it would take five machines – a total of 10U of rack height – to get to the same amount of capacity, the company says.

Density was one of the main draws for Green Cloud Technologies, a company in Greenville, South Carolina, that sells infrastructure as a service for small and medium-sized businesses.

Green Cloud leases space in four data centers to run that business, and every bit of space and power costs money, CEO Shay Houser said. Cisco’s design lets the company pack storage and computing capacity into much less room than it could with generic white-box storage servers, which were the main alternative, he said.

The company, a longtime Cisco shop, also believes Cisco storage gear would be more reliable than white-box systems. Less maintenance and downtime would help Green Cloud save money and keep its customers happy, Houser said. The company is just starting to bring S-Series servers online for a new backup-as-a-service offering.

Green Cloud is populating the systems with spinning disks, but half of the slots in the S3260 can hold SSDs (solid-state drives).

Enterprises can use different combinations of disk, SSD, networking, and computing elements to suit the performance and capacity needs of each application they want to run on the system.

Each 4U chassis can be linked to a Cisco fabric interconnect, so as many as 26 of the S3260 servers can be linked together for a total capacity of just over 15PB.

Cisco isn’t looking to make its own traditional storage arrays – at least not yet. There, it’s still relying on partnerships with NetApp, EMC, IBM, Pure Storage, and other companies. Instead, its storage server strategy is focused on scale-out, bare-metal systems for things like distributed object storage, Hadoop data analytics, and end-to-end systems for capturing and processing data from surveillance cameras, said Todd Brannon, director of product marketing in Cisco’s Computing Systems Product Group.

Also at the Partner Summit, Cisco introduced a revamped Cisco ONE Enterprise Cloud Suite, its collection of software for cloud infrastructure management. The suite is now made up of four modules that can be purchased separately: infrastructure automation, IT service management, cloud management, and big data automation. Cloud orchestration software from

Cloud orchestration software from CliQr, a recent Cisco acquisition, has been added. It helps to decide where to place workloads in public clouds. Also, the company has changed its sales model from perpetual licenses to subscriptions for one, three, or five years.

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