Cisco's UCS splash: some unfinished business

Still to come after "most significant technology announcement of the year" are ACI fabric interconnects and Invicta corrections, extensions

m4308 chassis front
m4308 chassis front

Cisco executives say this week’s launch of its expanded UCS servers is “the most significant technology announcement from Cisco this year” but there’s more to come. In case you missed it, from the largest cloud deployments to those with only up to 15 servers.

They include the UCS M-Series modular servers (pictured) and UCS C3160 storage server for large-scale cloud computing, and the 6324 Fabric Interconnect, or “UCS Mini,” for smaller scale IT requirements at the edge.

Together, the new products are intended to keep Cisco’s momentum going in the data center server market. Since introducing UCS in 2009 and literally disrupting the data center server market, Cisco – citing IDC figures – says it has gained the No. 1 position in revenue share for x86 blades in the Americas.

UCS now has 36,500 customers, is on a $3 billion annual run rate and experiencing 30%+ annual growth, and 85% of the Fortune 500 have invested in the product, Cisco says.

And Paul Perez, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Computing Systems Technology group, says “We don’t want to be number one in blades worldwide; we want to be number one in computing worldwide.”

Still to come though are fabric interconnects for Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) fabric. The new 6324 doesn’t support ACI, meaning UCS cannot currently physically integrate with an ACI policy-based infrastructure based on the company’s latest high-performance ASIC and controller intelligence. There’s integration of ACI and UCS at the UCS Director management level – but not yet at the fabric connectivity level.

Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior says ACI fabric interconnects for the UCS servers are “on the roadmap” as part of a “phased evolution” of the UCS line. Sources say they will emerge next year. But until they do, lack of ACI fabric interconnects for UCS seems to a be a gap in two foundational elements of Cisco’s Internet of Everything bedrock.

Also, there was not an Invicta element to Cisco’s UCS splash this week. Invicta is a version of UCS that incorporates 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. But Cisco reportedly pulled shipments of Invicta this week due to scaling issues.

“Technology maturity may take longer” after a company is acquired, Warrior said of the Invicta scaling issue, which occurs when the servers are stacked into 40-terabyte configurations. Cisco plans to resume shipments by the end of October.

Another key UCS development this week is the expansion of a relationship Cisco has with Red Hat. UCS will be included in an integrated infrastructure system for OpenStack deployments that also includes Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform, Cisco’s Nexus 9000 switches and UCS Director management platform, an eventually ACI policy fabric and Intercloud multiprovider system.

The new line of integrated infrastructure systems will target enterprise and mid-market OpenStack private cloud customers looking for an on-ramp to Intercloud. It will address a different market than integrated infrastructure arrangements Cisco currently has with storage titans EMC and NetApp.

Cisco released its own OpenStack distribution two years ago. Company officials were vague on how this arrangement with Red Hat impacts that but they were direct on what they intend to emphasize in the market.

“We’re taking Red Hat to market,” said Jim McHugh, vice president of UCS marketing. “2012 and where we are today are two different places.”

The Cisco/Red Hat integrated infrastructure plan is to introduce three offerings: a Starter Edition for enterprise private clouds; an Advanced Edition for large-scale private clouds that include Intercloud and supports thousands of VMs; and an Advanced ACI Edition delivering policy-driven infrastructure for large scale clouds with Cisco ACI.

Starter Edition is expected to become generally available by the end of the year. The others will be rolled out in 2015, McHugh said, which is consistent with when we expect those ACI fabric interconnects for UCS.

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