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Cisco UCS 2.0: Flashy new data center servers revealed

By , Network World
January 23, 2014 01:13 PM ET

Network World - Cisco this week unveiled the second generation of its successful data center server system with versions that incorporate solid state flash memory designed to speed data access and cut power usage.

At the same time, Cisco enhanced a management platform for its Unified Computing System (UCS) servers, and extended its line of Nexus data center switches to address requirements in the access and small core layers. (See the slideshow version of Cisco's switches.)

The new and enhanced products are intended to solidify Cisco's entrenchment in data center networking, while continuing to build on and broaden the momentum it's realized in data center servers since entering that market in 2009. Cisco says it now has 28,000 customers for the UCS server system and that the product line is growing at 60% per year, the fastest rate of any Cisco product.

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The new UCS servers dubbed the Invicta Series employ flash memory technology obtained last year through the acquisition of a company called WHIPTAIL. Cisco says that solid-state memory systems situated closer to the workloads that need it enable faster access to data, and reduce power and space compared to traditional data center memory and storage methods.

"This is a good first step for Cisco" into storage, says Henry Baltazar of Forrester Research. "With convergence and software-defined IT, you need storage."

The new offerings include the UCS Invicta C3124SA Appliance, for I/O acceleration in medium-scale environments; the Invicta Scaling System, a rack enclosure for the appliances that's designed for scale and capacity; and integration with the UCS Director management system for single pane control.

The C3124A appliance can support 250,000 IOPS and 1.9GBps bandwidth while the Scaling System can support up to 4 million IOPS and 40GBps bandwidth.

The UCS Invicta Series is designed to improve the performance of data intensive workloads like analytics and intelligence, batch processing, email, online transaction processing, video, virtual desktops, database loads, and high-performance computing. Cisco says such solid-state memory systems can extract, integrate and analyze data 10x faster than conventional methods, run batches with interrupting workflow, break bottlenecks between servers and memory, and compress more video files faster.

"A key area for flash is performance sensitive apps," Baltazar says. "It's also good in virtualization [where it's] easier to consolidate workloads with high performance flash. It's really, really good at random access."

In multi-tenant environments, Invicta can enable big relational databases to co-exist with virtual desktops on the same server platform.

Broader UCS management reach

Invicta's integration with UCS Director is but one enhancement to the UCS management platform Cisco unveiled this week. Others include scale, extensibility, and support for heterogeneous environments.

UCS Director automates the converged IT infrastructure, Cisco says. This is different from UCS Manager, which controls a single UCS domain; UCS Central, which governs multiple UCS domains; and Intelligent Automation for Cloud, which is a cloud service orchestrator for private, hybrid and platform-as-a-service cloud services.

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