I recently had the immense pleasure of visiting Cisco’s labs at Bedfont Lakes for a day of intensive information exchange about their UCS offering. To summarise the day: I was impressed. Even more so by the fact that there is more to come, I’m assuming a few more blogs posts about UCS will get published here after I had some time to benchmark it.
I knew about UCS from a presentation at the UKOUG user group, but it didn’t occur at the time which potential is behind the technology. This potential is something Cisco sadly fail to make clear on their website-which is very good once you understand the UCS concept as it gives you many details about the individual components.
I should stress that I am not paid or otherwise financially motivated to write this article, it’s pure interest in technology that made me write this blog post. A piece of good technology should be mentioned, and this is what I would like to do.
What is the UCS anyway?
When I mentioned to friends that I was going to see Cisco to have a look at their blade server offering I got strange looks. Indeed, Cisco hasn’t been known as a manufacturer of blades before, it’s only recently (in industry terms) that they entered the market. However instead of providing YABE (yet another blade enclosure), they engineered it quite nicely.
If you like, the UCS is an appliance-like environment you can use for all sorts of workloads. It can be fitted in a standard 42” Rack and currently consists of these components (brackets contain product designations for further reading):
- Two (clustered) Fabric Interconnects (UCS 6120 or 6140 series) for 20 or 40 10G ports, with each port configurable as either uplinks into the core network or server links down to UCS chassis. These ports carry both Ethernet and FCoE traffic from the UCS chassis
- Two Fabric Extenders (UCS 2100 series), which go into the blade enclosure and provide connectivity up to the Fabric Interconnects. Each UCS 2104 fabric extender (FEX) provides 40Gb bandwidth to the Interconnect, controlled by QoS policies
- Blade enclosures (UCS 5100 series), which contain 8 half-width or 4 full width blades
- Different models of half-width and full-width UCS B-series blades providing up to 512G RAM and 7500 series Intel Xeon processors
- 10GE Adapters which are Converged Network Adapters (CNA). In other words they can do Fibre Channel over Ethernet and non-storage Ethernet traffic
The Fabric Interconnects can take extension modules with Fibre Channel to link to a FC switch, there is no new technology introduced and existing arrays can be used. Also, existing fibre channel solutions can be used for backups.
Another of the interesting features is the management software, called UCS Manager. It’s integrated into the Fabric Interconnect using a few gigabyte of flash storage. Not only is it used to manage a huge number of blades, it can also stage firmware for each component. At a suitable time, the firmware can be upgraded in a rolling fashion except for the Fabric Interconnect (obviously), though the fabric interconnects can take advantage of the clustering functionality to ensure that complete firmware upgrades can be undertaken with a system-wide outage.