Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Selling your data center soul for 20 percent?

I almost had another "spray coffee out the nose" experience this morning when reviewing the industry news headlines. Yesterday, Cisco managed to get into competition with just about everybody in the IT universe. "Cisco Systems doesn't seem to know how to color inside the lines," wrote Matt Asay this morning. What did Cisco do? Well, it announced it's "Unified Computing System" (UCS) that basically puts it into competition with IBM, HP, Dell, EMC, NetApp, Citrix, and everybody else that plays in the enterprise and service provider data center. Craig Matsumoto at Light Reading does a good job on the various details.

"What the hell is a UCS?" you ask. Well, according to Cisco, it's, "the next-generation data center platform." It's "designed to improve IT responsiveness to rapidly changing business demands," and it "accelerates the delivery of new services simply, reliably, and securely, through end-to-end provisioning and migration support for both virtualized and non-virtualized systems." In short, it's an all-singing, all-dancing integrated mash-up of networking, compute, and storage widgets, all of which plug into nice rack-mountable chassis with little Cisco logos on them. Cisco says that using UCS, you'll be able to "unify, simplify, and amplify," er... something.

This is the biggest, boldest data center marketecture the world has ever seen. It's chock-full of buzz-word compliant marketing phrases and it's 100 percent certified politically correct. The Cisco marketing videos are stuffed with beautiful people who look really happy about reducing their cholesterol rating and amplifying, er..., whatever it is that UCS amplifies. Seriously, I didn't see one ugly or unhappy person in the videos.

In short, wow, what could go wrong...?

In listening to some of the other videos, I was struck that Cisco really has thought this thing through. For instance, in a second video, Mark Fulgham, Vice President of Marketing for Cisco said:

We all have to recognize that the language of business is money. And so with that in mind, we have consciously created some really empowering TCOs here. One that addresses a 20 percent total cost of ownership reduction in the area of facilities, which really has a 10 - 15 year capitalization cycle. So this is a very dramatic contribution to the bottom line. Secondarily, we are also looking at a 15 percent reduction in the actual platform. So again, very competitive and actual good table stakes in being able to respond to data center virtualization. Last but not least, we also see this as an opportunity to allow companies to rethink their organizational models, so that they are able to bring together more effective, efficient, and responsive IT organizations to address the just-in-time as opposed to just-in-case provisioning models that IT has today.

Just listen to that. "We have consciously created some really empowering TCOs here." Like wow, they really spent time on this. It was conscious; definitely not unconscious. The "TCOs" are really "empowering." Between the "empowering TCOs," the "amplifying," and the good looking people in the videos, you just know this is going to be good.

According to Fulgham, speaking the language of business, which is money, this whole thing will shave 20 percent off your facilities costs and they are "looking at" a 15 percent reduction in the "actual platform" (translation: all the hardware and software you're going to have to buy from Cisco to get you this).

So, my first reaction is how, um..., underwhelming it is.

Honestly, is that it? All these big chassis and virtualization and unified, integrated, automated everything and you can only give me a TCO reduction of 20 percent on my data center facilities? Dang, everybody else in the data center rearchitecture and virtualization business have shown TCOs much higher then this when companies are really ready to go whole-hog down the path. And that's for mixed equipment from multiple vendors. How is it that Cisco wants to integrate everything and can only show small double-digit reductions like this? (Answer: Maybe this stuff is exorbitantly priced.) A reduction of 20 percent might be "empowering," but it's hardly impressive. I wouldn't know; I haven't ever really felt empowered from a TCO.

Secondly, only a 15 percent reduction in the cost of the "platform??" Let me get this straight... Cisco can't save me more than 15 percent after completely rearchitecting my data center and fork-lift upgrading all my current gear to a Cisco UCS platform? That's staggering. Hell, most people could shave 15 percent off the cost of their data center hardware and software by rolling their current vendors for slightly better discounts, particularly during this macro economic climate.

Thirdly, just what the hell does, "very competitive and actual good table stakes in being able to respond to data center virtualization," mean?? What kind of mush-mouth, marketing double-talk is that? Is anyone out there "responding to data center virtualization?" Anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

"Last but not least," Cisco sees the adoption of UCS as an "opportunity to allow companies to rethink their organizational models." It's not a problem, you see, that UCS will cut across every single operating team in your organization and throw your organizational structure is a mass of tangled string; rather, it's an "opportunity." Wow, how nice of Cisco to give everybody this opportunity. I mean, I'm sure that everybody was sitting here in a down economy, with budgets getting cut across the board, having to make all manner of hard decisions, and negotiating like crazy with vendors to make all the numbers add up at the end of the day, thinking to themselves, "You know what I really need right now...? The 'opportunity' to rethink my whole organization model. Yea, that's it." Seems like Fulgham comes from the "it's not a bug, it's a feature" school of marketing. But who can blame him with all the "amplification" in the air? Certainly, not I; it's enough to give one a case of the vapours.

Don't just take my word for all this, it's straight from the lips of Cisco. Watch the video.

Okay, enough of the sarcasm. Here's the real-world translation for all you folks that haven't lived through grand-scale marketectures before and don't speak the lingo:

In return for a fork-lift upgrade of your whole data center infrastructure (networking, servers, and storage) to a Cisco UCS, you'll (maybe) see a 20 percent reduction in facilities costs and (maybe) a 15 percent reduction in "platform" costs. Yes, you'll have to throw out everything you have today to get these staggering "benefits," but you can rebuy everything from Cisco again with a 15 percent savings. In return for all this, which you could probably get sticking with your current best-of-breed architecture and negotiating a bit harder in this down economy, you make the Faustian bargain of locking yourself into racks and racks of single-vendor (plus a small cabal of "partners") proprietary gear as far the eye can see. Oh, but I almost forgot--you also have the "opportunity" to completely "rethink" your IT organization. And wait, they'll also throw in a free set of Ginsu knives...

All this is brought to you by the same people that today sell you 1-port Fast Ethernet cards for $639 (not Gigabit Ethernet, mind you!) and 512 MB of memory for $2447. Now, maybe it's just me, but when Cisco can't find more than 15 to 20 percent savings in their own marketing announcement and they have a history of selling $639 Fast Ethernet cards, call me just a little skeptical that I'm not going to see all the "amplification" that I have been promised, er..., whatever that means.

What's the value of choice and avoiding vendor lock-in? Would you really sell your data center soul for 15 to 20 percent?


Anonymous Lee Johns said...

Very Perceptive. You might want to read a Blog posted by Michael Kendall of HP on the same topic. Fo anyone who watches Battlestar Galactica. "This has all happened before and will happen again."

Lee Johns
HP StorageWorks


Thu Mar 19, 09:37:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Brad Hedlund said...

You keep harping on Cisco UCS as a "forklift of the entire data center" but there is no intellectual argument to support it. Cisco UCS links nicely into exiting Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks and can be incrementally added, pod by pod.

Thu May 07, 06:56:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Dave Roberts said...

You keep harping on Cisco UCS as a "forklift of the entire data center" but there is no intellectual argument to support it. Cisco UCS links nicely into exiting Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks and can be incrementally added, pod by pod.So, two points...

First, yes, UCS will attach to existing networks, but I'm not sure I see the point to that. That isn't a test of anything. That doesn't mean that they aren't a forklift.

Second, my main point in talking about the forklift, is that to get the proposed savings, where Fulgham says you'll save 20% on your facilities, you're going to have to go for a full deployment. Fine, deploy a single "pod," but you won't have saved the claimed 20%. To get the savings claimed, you have to forklift all the Dell, HP, and IBM 1U servers, blade servers, etc., and shift over to the UCS.

Fri May 08, 10:52:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Brad Hedlund said...

What exactly is "proprietary" about Cisco UCS? Can you give a good example of that?

Fri May 08, 04:50:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Jerald said...

Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. Thank u.


Mon Mar 14, 03:23:00 AM 2011  
Anonymous Mac Pherson said...

Being practical sometimes involves sacrificing a fraction of yourself and your job in order to upgrade the data system. Yeah, there will be risks involved. But if it goes according to plan, it will be fruitful.

Wed Oct 19, 02:16:00 PM 2011  
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