Cisco Unified Computing System is 75% Networking - Who Knew?

Sort of Like Finding Out Water is Wet

I thought I'd delve into a slightly less controversial subject this week (well, maybe). My technical background lacks significant hosting experience (servers, storage, operating systems, etc). I understand hosting systems and how to design them into networks, but I'm not going to argue the peculiarities of different Intel CPU designs. When Cisco announced the Unified Computing System (UCS) last year, I looked at it as Cisco's entrance to the hosting (server) market. While it was interesting, it wasn't at the top of my list to learn. That changed a few weeks ago when I took Firefly's Cisco Data Center Unified Computing Implementation (DCUCI) v3 course.

Let me state early on I am not nor do I intend to be a UCS expert. There are plenty of other people with expertise on UCS, like my Firefly instructor, Dave Alexander, Colin McNamara, Scott Lowe, or Cisco themselves.

What shocked me was how much networking is involved in UCS. This should seem as a "duh" for a Cisco product, but it hadn't occurred to me before the Firefly course. I'm writing this blog because I have a feeling a lot of my readers are traditional network engineers (LANs, WANs, Data Centers, routing, etc) and had the same initial reaction to UCS. So, if your IT server team is evaluating UCS and you're not part of it, you have a problem. Think of UCS as server blades (CPU cores and RAM) surrounded by a networking cloud. Even the NICs in the server can be virtualized with the Palo adapter card in the blades. Setting these NIC cards correctly involves proper network design, particularly if you are integrating with VMware ESX. Here are just some of networking topics based on the Firefly UCS class:

  • I/O Consolidation with FCoE
  • UCS Chassis and Fabric Extender Cards
  • UCS Fabric Interconnect (the switches that look a lot like Nexus 5000s)
  • VMware Integration - including with Nexus 1000V
  • Cisco UCS Management Architecture - all done via the Fabric Interconnects, the switches
  • Chassis Power Supplies - sounds like Layer-0 Design
  • Fabric Interconnect Network Configuration
  • Cisco UCS Software Upgrade Overview - it is Cisco code (NX-OS)
  • Server and Uplink Ports
  • Ethernet Host Virtualizer Mode
  • Virtual NICs
  • Port Channels
  • Pin Groups
  • SAN Connectivity - SAN is a huge part of UCS
  • MAC Addresses - yes, you can create your own MAC address pools for servers in UCS
  • and there's more....

See this blog as a call to action. If UCS is being evaluated by your hosting group, get involved. UCS is way too powerful to be turned into just another blade center. Hosting teams will most likely not have the technical skills to harness UCS's power which is networking based, so they will simplify or ignore key networking technologies that separate UCS from regular blade center systems. If that happens, you will never realize the cost savings, power, and productivity enhancements that come from UCS. It will just be another blade center in the data center, which would be extremely dissapointing.

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