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Cisco Executives Show UCS Weakness

Cisco's attempted hijacking of the data center isn't off to the greatest start. Speaking at the company's partner conference in Boston today, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior touted numbers that actually reflect pretty poorly on the company's attempts thus far to convince customers to bet the future of their data centers on its vision of the Unified Computing System (UCS).

Warrior quoted results of a Goldman Sachs report showing that two-thirds of IT managers at Fortune 1000 companies expect an "increased presence of Cisco servers" in the next two to three years. She followed that up with the fact that 18 percent said they "plan to evaluate UCS within 12 months."

That only 18 percent of those customers "plan to evaluate" UCS doesn't sound so hot when you consider that server virtualization leader VMware is present in 100% of the Fortune 500 and 92% of Fortune 1000 companies. When a reporter asked Cisco executives if they weren't disappointed by that 18% figure, Soni Jiandani, a Cisco vice president of marketing, tried to confuse the issue by referring back to the two-thirds figure. Let me recap this: 66 percent of Fortune 1000 companies will add to the Cisco footprint, as opposed to 18 percent who might evaluate UCS. Those are not at all the same thing, and not at all encouraging for Cisco. I followed up with a restatement of the reporter's question through the Web interface (the conference was Web cast), but somehow the moderator never got to it.

Jiandani danced around another pointed question around Cisco's C-Series servers, which it introduced today as a way for customers to dip their toes in the waters of UCS without committing to it fully. The C-Series are less-expensive rack-mounted servers, as opposed to the higher-end B-Series blade servers Cisco introduced in March, and may be a response to tepid demand reflected by the Goldman Sachs study. But Jiandani refused to discuss how Cisco plans to adjust its business plan to accomodate selling lower-margin, high-volume hardware.

Warrior didn't join Jiandani and other executives on stage for the Q&A portion of the presentation, which I think says a lot about Cisco's readiness to join the ranks of IBM, Microsoft and Oracle as a platform vendor. Its executives rely heavily on slides and WebEx presentations, even for short, one-on-one briefings, and seem to be thrown off-stride by probing questions. Getting back to the 18% question, it was either a mistake to have brought it up at all, or else there's a good explanation for why it's a good number. But all Jiandani could do was try to make it disappear with some inelegant sleight-of-hand. Warrior probably wasn't on stage to defend that statistic because she had something more pressing to do. And that may indicate that Cisco, which has hemmoraged high level executives like Charlie Giancarlo and Mike Volpi over the past few years, doesn't have a deep enough bench behind Warrior and CEO John Chambers to tangle with the larger vendors. Having good products is the first building block for any platform wannabe, but having heavyweights to bring them to market is what separates the contenders from the pretenders.