Cisco’s Next UCS Leap: Blade, Rack Server Upgrades

Cisco's UCS B22 M3 Blade Server

Cisco is continuing its big play for the data center with upgrades to its B-Series and C-Series servers. That hardware adds to what the company terms the third generation of its Unified Computing and Servers (UCS) initiative, which combines networking, virtualization, and storage.

The four new models include the UCS B22 and B420 M3 blades, along with the C22 and C24 M3 rack servers. The B22 M3, C22 M3, and C24 M3 are two-socket, and designed for chips from the Intel Xeon processor E5-2400 family; the B420 M3 is a four-socket, with processing power courtesy of chips from the Intel Xeon processor E5-4600 product family.

Cisco intends the hardware leveraging the E5-2400 chips for scale-out workloads. The B420 M3, on the other hand, is meant to tackle heavy enterprise-level tasks such as virtualization and database tasks.

In addition, the B420 M3 supports 1.5 TB of memory (with 48 DIMM slots), and can deliver 160 Gbps aggregate I/O bandwidth, thanks to sixteen 10 GB Ethernet ports (provided the IT administrator adds Cisco VIC 1280 to Cisco VIC 1240 and port expander). Contrast that with the B22 M3, C22 M3, and C24 M3, which all support up to 192 GB RAM via 12 DIMM slots.

Three of the new pieces of hardware—the B22 M3, the B420 M3, and the C22 M3—offer SSD drives in addition to SAS or SATA options. The storage with the C24 M3 includes only SAS or SATA.

Cisco’s UCS initiative combines blade and rack servers with other IT infrastructure into a unified system (hence the name) that can be centrally configured and monitored, in theory speeding the deployment and use of applications running in a variety of environments—including cloud and virtualized ones. Cisco argues that UCS makes businesses’ data centers more streamlined, saving costs in the longer run. (A handy chart of various UCS hardware is below.)

In a bid to take advantage of its traditional strengths in network technology, Cisco also argues that its UCS infrastructure can leverage network products such as Cisco Virtual Interface Cards to handle input/output in more efficient ways.

“In UCS, I/O is effectively taken off the table as a design worry because every server gets its full USRDA of networking through the VIC: helping portions of bandwidth, rich with Fabric Extender technology vitamins that yield hundreds of Ethernet and FC adapters through one physical device,” Todd Brannon, a member of Cisco’s data center team, wrote in a June 18 posting on the company’s corporate blog. “Gone are the days of hemming and hawing over how many mezz card slots your blade has or how many cards you’re going to need to feed that hungry stack of VM’s on your rack server.”

Um, yeah: there’s some sort of food analogy in there.

Cisco has big plans for the data center, but it also faces a significant amount of competition from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and other rivals—all of which have their own plans for a converged data center loaded with their respective products.

Image: Cisco

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