Cisco's new UCS fabric interconnect: no ACI?

The quietly introduced 6324 "mini UCS" has no connection to newest data center fabric

Cisco has quietly launched a new fabric interconnect for its Unified Computing System servers designed to address requirements for smaller compute domains. There have been reports that the 6324 Fabric Interconnect is either a component of or actually is a “mini UCS” targeted at mid-market enterprises and SMBs.

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The 6324 is integrated directly into the blade server chassis – where Cisco fabric extender modules typically go -- to simplify connectivity between the servers and a lossless 10G Ethernet network fabric, especially in space constrained environments. Up to now, UCS fabric interconnects have been external to the blade server chassis, which requires more data center real estate and might not be as scalable: if each blade server chassis has its own fabric interconnect instead of sharing an external one, you have many more fabric interconnects managing virtual ports.

An interesting element of the 6324 announcement is the absence of any Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) fabric “connection,” for lack of a better term. Sources say the 6324 is based on the Nexus 3548 switch, which contains no ACI silicon.

ACI is, of course, the policy-based data center fabric developed by Cisco’s Insieme Networks spin-in.

What this means is UCS shops might have to wait for an even newer fabric interconnect – a 64XX? -- for integration with Cisco’s latest data center fabric development. Which also means Cisco’s ACI might need some more work before it can be considered a unified fabric.

At first blush, one might think well, ACI is overkill for mid-market and SMB environments, where the 6324 will find purchase. But why would it be? It’s an application policy framework and application policies – be they performance, security, access privileges, etc. – pertain to small and midsized business as much as they do large enterprises and cloud providers.

Indeed, Cisco has a scaled down version of ACI in its APIC Enterprise Module that’s designed for enterprise WAN and access policy requirements. And Cisco recently announced the Nexus 9336PQ, a 1.44Tbps, 2RU switch for small to medium ACI spine deployments of 36 40G QSFP+ ports.

Cisco SDN rival VMware says its NSX network virtualization platform has found traction in enterprises of all sizes. So too should ACI.

But as reported, we expect a next-generation UCS fabric interconnect with VM-FEX, FibreChannel and FibreChannel-over-Ethernet based on the Insieme developments. The 6324 isn't it.

Cisco says it will talk about ACI integration with UCS at a later date.

“Since the 6324 Fabric Interconnect wasn’t launched the way we typically make product announcements, we didn’t include the typical messaging and context that typically goes with such an announcement, and information on the 6324 is more limited than normal,” a company spokesperson stated in an e-mail to Network World.

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