Data Center Server Infrastructure
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Everything You Need to Know About the Cisco UCS Generation 3 Enhancements

With the latest expansion of the UCS product lineup, let's discuss everything you need to know about the Cisco UCS Generation 3 enhancements.

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From improved interface and expansion capabilities to increased flexibility and storage ratios

When Cisco launched their Unified Computing System (UCS) a little more than six years ago, it was heralded as a next-generation data center platform that united compute, network, storage access and virtualization into a cohesive system that could reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) while increasing business agility. WWT was among the first technology integrators to embrace UCS and bring its powerful capabilities to bear to support a wide range of workloads and applications for enterprise and federal customers.

With the latest expansion of the UCS product lineup in 2016, WWT once again embraces the new functionalities of this converged platform and the even broader array of use cases it supports. Here’s a few highlights from the expansion:

Improved UCS Manager interface

One of the more prominent features of this major release is an updated Graphical User Interface (GUI). And, because Cisco has fully adopted the HTML5 platform in the latest revision, we now have a much simpler way to access the UCS Manager console (i.e., via Internet browser) and a higher degree of consistency across Cisco management platforms (Unified Code). Additionally, with this latest “Unified Code,” we will see support for B-Series, C-Series and M-Series all within the same UCS Domain.

Generation 3 fabric interconnects and I/O modules

Generation 3 Fabric Interconnects will now be 40 GB capable, while offering 10 GB breakout adapters to fit seamlessly into a 10 GB environment. This will give the UCS system up to 32 ports of out-of-box connectivity using the 10 GB option. Combined with the new IOM 2304, the entire system will have more available bandwidth – 16 GB FC switching, higher density ports – and yet will still fit in a single 1RU form factor. This latest generation is the highest performing converged system Cisco has released to date.

Virtual interface adapters (VIC)

While I look forward to having more bandwidth and better performance from the Fabric Interconnects, I also welcome the many new features available with the Cisco VIC 1340 and 1380 (VIC 1227 for C-Series). These cards will offer significant enhancements around PCIe, will have lower latency and provide support for overlay networks (NVGRE and VXLAN). In addition, a choice of interfaces (10 GB SFP+, 10GBaseT, 40 GB QSFP) is provided as well as options for multiple form factors (e.g. Blades or C-Series).

Next-gen NVIDIA GPU "Maxwell"

This “Next-gen” graphic card will have integration within UCS Manager for firmware upgrades and inventory acknowledgment. This card will also be offered in the B200M4 for 16 user support and the C240 and C460 for 32 user support.

Expansion of UCS mini capabilities

With the simple-to-deploy architecture, I have seen many customers immediately benefit by harnessing their knowledge of UCS, then further by deploying UCS Mini to isolated data center pods and/or their remote branch offices. I have seen a great adoption rate as more customers take the “data center in a box” approach. Cisco now also offers support for an additional chassis expansion, making this product expand its own capabilities to up to 20 servers while using the QSFP+ breakout and combining both B- and C-series servers as depicted below.

Additional chassis expansion combining B- and C-series servers
Additional chassis expansion combining B- and C-series servers

Operationally, UCS Mini is identical to the UCS we’ve known and loved for the past six years, yet in terms of form factor and lower entry level price, it’s an attractive choice for the mid-sized commercial market and the remote/branch office market. It also provides an interesting infrastructure alternative for cloud service providers.

UCS M-series composable server

“Composability” is a system design principle that utilizes components that can be selected and assembled in various combinations to satisfy specific user requirements. The cartridge based M-Series Server is a composable design that shares resources when utilizing the 3rd Generation Cisco VIC combined with Cisco System Link Technology. At WWT, we see great use cases for this architecture when delivering a massive number of web pages (web-scale), high levels of graphic processing in conjunction with compute processing, as well as massive single application algorithmic/scientific needs. While developers migrate more and more applications to the cloud, the M-Series becomes a crucial player for containers and micro services as well. With a variety of cartridges (servers) available, look to see systems anywhere from 16 single socket servers up to four dual socket servers in a 2RU form factor.

C3260 rack server (now order-able)

With increased flexibility in CPU and storage ratios and by sharing local recourses, the C3260 offers a great use case high availability in a box. The C3260 has a modular architecture, meaning many key components are hot swappable. Also, with the ability to have dual server nodes, 2x 120 GB SSD (OS Boot) up to 360 TB of local storage, and by leveraging the capabilities in the 1300 Series Cisco VIC, this platform will serve as ideal for a range of big data use cases.

Generation 1 Fabric Interconnects approaching end of support

With progress, comes the inevitable end for old technology. The new features and capabilities in the 3.x code release will mean “the end of the road” for first generation Fabric Interconnects as they will no longer be able to upgrade further. End of Support (EoS) for this first generation product will occur in 2017.

Recognizing that our customers are interested in understanding their options further, WWT offers Cisco UCS Fabric Interconnect Upgrading Workshops. WWT has been a trusted advisor in assisting many of our customers upgrade their first generation UCS installations. The industry verticals we have worked with range from healthcare and financial services to international airports.

How WWT can help

WWT’s UCS training courses help organizations inspire, build and deliver business results, from idea to outcome. Using two training pods comprised of UCS clusters managed by UCS Central and integrated with EMC and NetApp storage within converged infrastructure environments, WWT conducts training to help customers explore a range of UCS features and benefits. These training sessions are complemented by UCS workshops that focus on design, deployment strategies and upgrades for UCS.

If you would like to know more about upgrading your current Cisco UCS Infrastructure, contact your WWT account manager or leave a comment below.