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On April 6, 2021, Cisco announced the release of its sixth generation of servers, including Cisco UCS B200M6 blade servers as well as the Cisco UCS C220M6 and C240M6 rack mount servers – all of them delivering flexible performance with 3rd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, and all available for order now.

Besides the upgrade to scalable processors, this newest server generation also features the enhanced capabilities of Intel® Optane™ persistent memory, as well as a more generous array of expansion slots.

We'd like to examine in detail the improvements that are enabling these servers to deliver the flexible performance gains that may very well define the future of scalable server technology.

Cisco M6 servers reach full potential with the latest Intel® technology

Intel's 3rd generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processor
Intel's 3rd generation Intel Xeon Scalable Processor

As mentioned, Cisco's new server portfolio features the performance and flexibility of 3rd generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors for all 2-socket servers, as well as the large capacity and data persistence of Intel® Optane™ 200 Series Persistent Memory, both representing a foundational advancement in data center transformation. 

The 3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor features a balanced architecture that's optimized for a range of workload types and performance levels. Cisco's M6 servers incorporate processor core counts that vary from 8 to 40, depending on the specific server model. These latest processors support up to 16 DIMMs / 8 channels per processor at 3200MHz, compared to 12 DIMMs / 6 channels per processor at 2933MHz in previous generation processors. And, they offer 64 lanes of PCIe Gen4 per socket, versus 48 lanes of PCIe Gen3 per socket in previous generations.

Additionally, the M6 offers 3200 MHz memory, supporting 8 TB of memory when utilizing DDR4 memory and up to 12 TB of memory when using Intel Optane persistent memory.  Similar to the C225M6 and C245M6 servers that Cisco released last March, the C220M6 and C240M6 support PCIe 4.0 for I/O and storage.

Distinguishing features that set Cisco UCS B200M6 blade servers apart

In addition to motherboard layout changes to support 3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors, notable improvements to the B200M6 blade servers also include:

  • Dedicated slot for mLOM VIC options.
  • One rear mezzanine slot for VIC or port expansion options.
  • One front slot for the Cisco FlexStorage RAID controller, FlexStorage passthrough, or M.2 RAID controller.
  • Up to two front-loading SAS/SATA/NVMe drives or up to four internal M.2 drives.
Cisco UCS B200 M6 Blade Server
Cisco UCS B200 M6 Blade Server

Understanding the common advantages (and differences) of Cisco rack mount servers

Cisco's rack-mount versions of the M6 servers offer up to eight PCIe 4.0 expansion slots, two 10GBASE-T Intel® LAN on Motherboard (LOM) ports that are 1Gbps-capable, and a dedicated mLOM slot for VIC options.

However, these two rack-mount servers each offer their own distinct features:

  • The C220M6 server comes in entirely NVMe or SAS/SATA configuration supporting 10 disk drives. They support up to two GPUs and a RAID controller plugs into a dedicated slot, leaving all PCIe slots available for other cards.
Cisco C220M6 server
Cisco C220M6 server
  • The C240M6 server comes in multiple disk drive configurations: small form factor (SFF) all NVMe with up to 16 or 28 drives, two types of SAS/SATA options, and 16 large form factor (LFF) drives with two SFF drives (up to four NVMe drives).
Cisco C240M6 server
Cisco C240M6 server

Cisco supports an open mix of flexible management options

Customers may select any of several ways to manage these new M6 servers, but the preferred choice is through Cisco Intersight Managed Mode, Cisco's newest infrastructure management platform. Cisco Intersight is a cloud-based subscription service that streamlines the management of Cisco compute infrastructure.

A second management option for the servers is to use Cisco UCS Manager running a 6300 or 6400 series fabric Interconnect.  Other third-party management solutions that can utilize Cisco's management APIs include Ansible and Puppet. 

Additionally, C-series rack mount servers can be managed with Intersight via the Cisco Integrated Management Controller (IMC). This management capability can be achieved through the use of Cisco IMC in standalone mode.  As long as organizations use the minimum UCS management software required for supporting the M6 servers, they can be mixed with older generation servers. 

To learn what operating systems and hypervisors are supported, as well as what UCS management software is required with the M6 servers, please consult the UCS Hardware and Software Compatibility (HCL) website. In addition, plans for Network Equipment Building Systems (NEBS) certification for M6 servers are currently underway. Customers can track the status of this certification process through their Cisco account team representatives.

A future-forward approach to server performance designed for flexibility

The emergence of Cisco's M6 server signifies a move away from the standard servers we all know and love.  Say hello to a combined architecture where the blade and rack are now in one server.

Available now and looking down the road, customers have the option of purchasing the UCS X9508 Chassis. While slightly larger as compared to the previous generation UCS 5108 Chassis, this new form factor provides significantly more space for compute nodes, and future expansion with other node types. Any intra-chassis scalability issues that may have been a concern with the prior UCS chassis generation are eliminated with the X-Series. Like the generation before it, Cisco is anticipating at least a ten-year lifespan for this chassis design.

In the future, Cisco UCS X-Series servers will allow for hardware disaggregation. This will be accomplished through upcoming fabric modules, including 2nd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors and other technologies as they become available.  These fabrics will allow customers to pool resources such as CPUs, GPUs, memory, or storage, which can be allocated to individual applications or OS instances as needed.  The result: less wasting of resources, increased efficiency, and cost savings for the customer.

Gone are the days of customers being forced to determine which server form factors (rack vs. blade) to purchase based on specific application constraints. Now the X-Series, with its ability to disaggregate, will deliver smart, flexible solutions for most types of modern workloads. 

Interested in learning more about how Cisco servers and data center products powered by Intel can benefit your organization? Our subject matter experts are available to help answer your specific questions. Contact your WWT account team to schedule a lab or demonstration in our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) today.

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