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Cisco taps Linux for agility, low cost in data center

Cisco Systems has transformed its data center into on-demand computing resource with Linux as an agile, cost-effective platform for rapid virtualization.

Cisco Systems Inc., the $35 billion king of proprietary networking, has transformed its data centers to an automated, service-centric on-demand model based, at least in part, on open source software.

The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant is four years into a nine-year restructuring and virtualization project that will consolidate its compute, storage, networking and application resources into a unified, on-demand pool that increases IT responsiveness to evolving business requirements and lowers costs, according to IT Manager Sidney Morgan. In addition, it will boost availability and redundancy and chop provisioning time for new servers from as long as eight weeks to three days, a task that ultimately will be automated and filled in real time in response to changing business needs, he predicted.

"We wanted to drive an IT transformation and go from a business roadblock to a business enabler," Morgan said.

We wanted to drive an IT transformation and go from a business roadblock to a business enabler.
Sidney Morgan,
IT managerCisco Systems Inc.

One of the keys to Cisco's ongoing data center transformation is virtualization running on a Cisco-modified, Linux-based operating system. About 3,000 servers have been virtualized with VMware in two years, and Linux adoption is a critical underpinning of the virtualization initiative, said Morgan.

"Linux is a key enabler for virtualization which we must have for an energy-efficient data center to meet the business requirements of the 21st century," Morgan said. "Linux is a stable more robust, high-performance platform that is more versatile for running business applications. And it enables us to architect our applications to a known, open standard in which we have a voice."

Six years ago, the Cisco data center initiative was initially sparked by a space shortage, but it grew beyond consolidation and virtualization goals to an architectural realignment that would end inefficient application silos, each supported by its own stack of services, and provide compute resources from a central pool as application and business needs changed, he said.

In addition to Linux and virtualization, another key underpinning of the restructuring was the creation of an intelligent, 10 Gb, Layer 2 Ethernet network that combines two networks into one, which not only reduces cabling costs but also assumes some functions normally performed by servers.

By standardizing on Linux six years ago, Cisco could buy commodity servers, minimizing hardware and computing costs, and "blast through" the virtualization of 3,000 servers in two years, Morgan said. As a result, storage utilization has grown from 20% to 68% and could go as high as 80%, and server utilization has climbed from 13% to more than 70%, he said.

To date, Cisco has saved $20 million in avoided operational costs, with lower utility and heating and cooling bills, less floor space and fewer staff, Morgan said. Avoided storage costs have been even higher.

"It was just luck that we standardized on Linux," Morgan said. "Nobody knew it would explode. If we hadn't standardized on Linux, we wouldn't have been as agile" through all the changes, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Pam Derringer, News Writer . And check out Enterprise Linux Log.

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