Cisco UCS vs HP Matrix – 6 months later

Believe or not, the first blade system in the history of Cisco, the Unified Computing System (UCS), was launched more than one year ago.

Since March 2009, Cisco managed to enter a number of data centers, also thanks to the tight relationship with VMware and EMC.
In May The Register reported a sequential revenue growth last  up 168% with a unique customer base doubled to over 900 customers.
Last month Cisco reported about another 100 new customers.

HP, the player that has the most to lose if Cisco gains any significant market share, reacted in several ways.
It openly criticized the new competitor, it acquired 3Com to strengthen its networking offering, it renewed its relationship with Microsoft about virtualization.

A few are closely watching the competition and what it will produce in terms of innovation around fabric computing, virtualization and cloud computing.
One of them is Steve Kaplan, Vice President of Data Center Virtualization Practice at INX, a leading Cisco and VMware partner.

In December 2009 Kaplan presented the first public comparison between the Cisco UCS and the HP BladeSystem Matrix. As far as knows, nobody from HP or the HP partners network ever replied with an alternative side-by-side comparison, but HP is clearly fighting in the field.

Triggered by the release of the Update 1 for Matrix, Kaplan is back, six months after his first post, with an updated comparison. His conclusions slam the HP effort once again:

Despite its enhancements, the Matrix remains a daunting assimilation of existing HP products including enclosures, blades, Virtual Connect switches and 16 HP Insight Software packages. The Central Management Server (or servers) is similarly comprised of HP SIM, Storage Works XP CommandView, etc. as can be found on Page 13 in the Compatibility Chart. Conceivably, the Matrix functionality could be built outside of the "Matrix". Unlike the Cisco UCS, however, which only automates the provisioning of virtual servers, the Matrix automates both the virtual and physical environments.

Quite interestingly, Kaplan also share some details about the sales of the HP Matrix. While he can’t confirm the number (and HP doesn’t disclose any number about this), he suggests that the OEM doesn’t have more than 60-75 customer for its blade system.

In his comparison Kaplan covers pricing, implementation timeframe and issues, the virtualization strategy and of course the hardware and software characteristics of both systems.
Unfortunately, the virtualization strategy is not a fully exploded section of the comparison, but the brief analysis is still interesting:

Cisco UCS was developed from a clean slate over a period of three years under the leadership of VMware’s co-founder and former CTO as an optimized hosting platform for virtual infrastructure. It supplements the hypervisor in managing the virtualization environment and provides an XML API to which anyone can write and orchestrate the entire compute and network environment. This will enable a particularly symbiotic relationship with VMware’s upcoming Redwood (vCloud Services Director).

HP Matrix is designed as a self-service provisioning portal handling tasks from migrating virtual machines to managing VM lifecycles. These capabilities while ambitious, can put it at odds with data center architects striving to run a vDC as the standard with (if necessary) a limited number of physical servers as exceptions. For example, the Matrix’ Virtual Connect component is pitched to server teams as a way to manage the switches without the inconvenience of network group oversight. And while Matrix includes Roles Based Access Control, once an HP enclosure is incorporated into the Matrix in production mode, the network team cannot even make changes such as VLAN configurations.

A recommended reading.