Cisco Expands UCS Family with OLTP, Data Warehouse Products

Two new hardware comfigurations certified for use with Microsoft SQL Server 2008.

Cisco Systems Inc. this week has fleshed out its Unified Computing System (UCS) product line.  The company announced two new hardware configurations certified for use with Microsoft Corp.'s SQL Server 2008 database.

The new products plug holes in Cisco;s UCS line compared to hardware competitors Dell Computer Corp., HP, IBM, and Oracle Corp., among others.

Cisco announced new online transaction processing (OLTP) and data warehouse (DW) configurations for UCS. The former is a SQL Server 2008R2 reference configuration optimized for OLTP workloads; most traditional DBMSes -- including offerings from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and the former Sybase Inc. (now a part of SAP AG) -- are deployed to support OLTP workloads.

In addition to an OLTP reference configuration, Cisco announced a new UCS configuration that's been certified as part of Microsoft's SQL Server 2008R2 "Fast Track" DW program, which it announced two years ago.  Fast Track provides a reference architecture that OEMs like Cisco can use to predictably scale SQL Server 2008R2 to support DW configurations of up to 32 TB.

Fast Track is not related to Microsoft's SQL Server 2008R2 Parallel Data Warehouse (PDW), which uses massively parallel processing (MPP) to scale SQL Server into the triple-digit-terabyte range.

"The simplest way to think about it is that ... Fast Track [is based on] a [symmetric multiprocessing, or SMP] model with the intent to scale into the tens of terabytes. Depending on the types of data sets you have and the optimizations you have done, you can [scale Fast Track] into the tens of terabytes," said Herain Oberoi, director of product management for SQL Server with Microsoft, in an April interview. "When you really get into the high end, that's when you want to switch from an SMP to an MPP architecture. That's where SQL Server Parallel Data Warehouse comes in."

With its new SQL Server 2008R2 packages, Cisco plugs a couple of gaps in its UCS portfolio. It still has some competitive catching up to do, however. For example, Cisco hasn't yet announced a UCS package for SQL Server 2008R PDW.

Large OEMs have offered OLTP reference configurations for years. Data warehousing-oriented configurations are newer, but Cisco rivals HP, IBM and Oracle have marketed pre-configured platforms optimized for DW for some time now. HP, for example, supports DW and OLTP configurations based on both Microsoft's and Oracle's DBMS platforms, while Oracle markets a combined MPP data warehousing and OLTP database platform in its Exadata offering, which is powered by Oracle 11g. IBM, too, markets several reference SMP and MPP data warehouse systems, based either on its DB2 database (e.g., its Smart Analytics portfolio) or on the MPP data warehouse platform it acquired last year from the former Netezza Inc. Big Blue likewise offers several DB2 database packages that are optimized for use in high-performance OLTP configurations. Dell, for its part, has participated in Microsoft's SMP-only Fast Track program since it was first launched.

Right now, Cisco seems more focused on data center density and consolidation -- i.e., consolidating and virtualizing existing or new workloads -- than on high-end scale-out DW or OLTP configurations. "Over the last few months, we've worked very closely with Microsoft and our storage partners EMC and NetApp to develop the enabling reference architectures," wrote Abhinav Joshi, a solutions architect in the System Architecture and Strategy Unit at Cisco, in a post on Cisco's corporate blog. "Leveraging these pre-validated, pretested solutions optimized for the Cisco UCS platform, you can accelerate the data warehouse deployments, reduce costs, reduce energy consumption and simplify management of infrastructure with integration into the Microsoft System Center portfolio."

This could change, however. These days, after all, large systems vendors have Big Data fever.

That's one of the main reasons Microsoft developed its SQL Server PDW program -- and why Oracle (itself a systems vendor, thanks to its acquisition of the former Sun Microsystems Inc.) developed Exadata; it also explains why EMC Corp., HP, IBM and Teradata Corp. snapped up several MPP DW specialists over the last 12 months. What's more, Cisco can have its pick of potential MPP partnerships -- or acquisitions: in addition to existing partners like Microsoft and EMC -- the latter of which, by the way, announced a new Big Data offering based on its Greenplum MPP data warehouse just last week -- the Big Data market is contested by several dozen small start-ups, including Exasol AG, InfoBright, Ingres Corp., Kognitio, and ParAccel Inc., just to name a few.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.