Defying naysayers, Cisco is boasting a major milestone for its Unified Computing System, or UCS. Just two years after rolling out the server product, data center managers and CIOs are finding value in the technology -- more than 10,000 of them, to be exact.

Two years ago, industry watchers doubted Cisco could gain traction with its new computing technology in a market dominated by Hewlett-Packard and IBM. But UCS is proving to be a force to be reckoned with, capturing 53 industry benchmark performance world records and winning a dozen industry awards for innovation since it started shipping in July 2009.

"This announcement is a pretty big deal," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. "I was really skeptical as to whether Cisco could be a server vendor at all. Two or three years ago, it was unusual for someone to deploy a Cisco server. It was like someone deploying Macs in the workplace. Now it's not that unusual. That 10,000 mark legitimizes Cisco as a server vendor."

Rising Server Tide

Cisco seems to be in the right place at the right time -- right in the middle of the cloud's growing adoption. The 2011 Cisco Cloud Index forecasts that cloud computing is transforming business, with more than 50 percent of computing workloads in data centers expected to be cloud-based by 2014.

Cisco's Cloud Index also predicts global cloud traffic will grow 12-fold by 2015, to 1.6 zettabytes per year. That's the equivalent of more than four days of business-class video for every person on Earth. This explosive cloud growth requires advanced data center capabilities -- and Cisco is promoting UCS to support end-to-end cloud application delivery.

"Cisco is on par -- and many would argue that they are superior -- to where IBM and HP are with servers," Kerravala said. "And it's not HP that Cisco has put a dent into with servers -- it's IBM. The decision used to be between HP and IBM, and now it seems to be Cisco and HP. So Cisco has almost taken IBM's place as an alternative to HP."

Cisco's Good Timing

UCS was designed from the ground up with what Cisco calls a "clean slate" approach. It is an integrated system, designed to optimize computing, networking, storage access, virtualization and management. Cisco listened to CIOs' complaints and tapped into a market demand for a new approach to computing with UCS.

"Cisco would argue that it's the first server that's been optimized for virtualization as the way it handles memory, processors and Ethernet. The server was designed with cloud computing and virtualization in mind," Kerravala said. "A lot of the legacy servers out there were not."

UCS is the first fabric computing platform that combines industry-standard, x86-architecture with networking and storage access into an integrated system. Cisco works with industry-leading infrastructure and software vendors, including BMC, CA, Citrix, EMC, Hitachi Data System, Microsoft, NetApp, Oracle, Red Hat, SAP and VMware to provide pretested, end-to-end solutions.

"Cisco's strength has always been in looking for market transitions that allow them to enter new markets. In this case the market transition is virtualization," Kerravala said. "Cisco's advantage is that they have designed a server specifically for this era of computing."