Cisco Tweaks UCS - New Interfaces, Management Software Expand Capabilities

Richard Fichera

Not to be left out of the announcement fever that has gripped vendors recently, Cisco today announced several updates to their UCS product line aimed at easing potential system bottlenecks by improving the whole I/O chain between the network and the servers, and improving management, including:

  • Improved Fabric Interconnect (FI) – The FI is the top of the UCS hardware hierarchy, a thinly disguised Nexus 5xxx series switch that connects the UCS hierarchy to the enterprise network and runs the UCS Manager (UCSM) software. Previously the highest end FI had 40 ports, each of which had to be specifically configured as Ethernet, FCoE, or FC. The new FI, the model 6248UP has 48 ports, each one of which can be flexibly assigned as up toa 10G port for any of the supported protocols. In addition to modestly raising the bandwidth, the 6248UP brings increased flexibility and a claimed 40% reduction in latency.
  • New Fabric Extender (FEX) – The FEXC connects the individual UCS chassis with the FI. With the new 2208 FEX, Cisco doubles the bandwidth between the chassis and the FI.
  • VIC1280 Virtual Interface Card (VIC) – At the bottom of the management hierarchy the new VIC1280 quadruples the bandwidth to each individual server to a total of 80 GB. The 80 GB can be presented as up to 8 10 GB physical NICs or teamed into a pair fo 40 Gb NICS, with up to 256 virtual devices (vNIC, vHBA, etc presented to the software running on the servers.
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VMware Pushes Hypervisor And Management Features With vSphere 5 Announcement

Richard Fichera

After considerable speculation and anticipation, VMware has finally announced vSphere 5 as part of a major cloud infrastructure launch, including vCloud Director 1.5, SRM 5 and vShield 5. From our first impressions, it is both well worth the wait and merits immediate serious consideration as an enterprise virtualization platform, particularly for existing VMware customers.

The list of features is voluminous, with at least 100 improvements, large and small, but among the features, several stand out as particularly significant as I&O professionals continue their efforts to virtualize the data center, primarily dealing with and support for both larger VMs and physical host systems, and also with the improved manageability of storage and improvements Site Recovery Manager (SRM), the remote-site HA components:

  • Replication improvements for Site Recovery Manager, allowing replication without SANs
  • Distributed Resource Scheduling (DRS) for Storage
  • Support for up to 1 TB of memory per VM
  • Support for 32 vCPUs per VM
  • Support for up to 160 Logical CPUs and 2 TB or RAM
  • New GUI to configure multicore vCPUs
  • Storage driven storage delivery based on the VMware-Aware Storage APIs
  • Improved version of the Cluster File System, VMFS5
  • Storage APIs – Array Integration: Thin Provisioning enabling reclaiming blocks of a thin provisioned LUN on the array when a virtual disk is deleted
  • Swap to SSD
  • 2TB+ LUN support
  • Storage vMotion snapshot support
  • vNetwork Distributed Switch improvements providing improved visibility in VM traffic
  • vCenter Server Appliance
  • vCenter Solutions Manager, providing a consistent interface to configure and monitor vCenter-integrated solutions developed by VMware and third parties
  • Revamped VMware High Availability (HA) with Fault Domain Manager
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HP Versus Oracle -- From Ugly To Uglier As HP Takes To The Courts

Richard Fichera

On June 15, HP announced that it had filed suit against Oracle, saying in a statement:

“HP is seeking the court’s assistance to compel Oracle to:

  • Reverse its decision to discontinue all software development on the Itanium platform

  • Reaffirm its commitment to offer its product suite on HP platforms, including Itanium;

  • Immediately reset the Itanium core processor licensing factor consistent with the model prior to December 1, 2010 for RISC/EPIC systems

 HP also seeks:

  • Injunctive relief, including an order prohibiting Oracle from making false and misleading statements regarding the Itanium microprocessor or HP’s Itanium-based servers and remedying the harm caused by Oracle’s conduct.

  • Damages and fees and other standard remedies available in cases of this nature.”

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HP Stirs The Pot With New Converged Infrastructure Offerings

Richard Fichera

HP this week really stirred up the Converged Infrastructure world by introducing three new solution offerings, one an incremental evolution of an existing offering and the other two representing new options which will put increased pressure on competitors. The trio includes:

  • HP VirtualSystem - HP’s answer to vStart, Flex Pod and vBlocks, VirtualSystem is a pre-integrated stack of servers (blade and racked options), HP network switches and HP Converged Storage (3Par and Left Hand Networks iSCSI) along with software, including the relevant OS and virtualization software. Clients can choose from four scalable deployment options that support up to 750, 2500 or 6000 virtual servers or up to 3000 virtual clients. It supports Microsoft and Linux along with VMware and Citrix. Since this product is new, announced within weeks of the publication of this document, we have had limited exposure it, but HP claims that they have added significant value in terms of optimized infrastructure, automation of VM deployment, management and security. In addition, HP will be offering a variety of services and hosting options along with VirtualSystem. Forrester expects that VirtualSystem will change the existing competitive dynamics and will result in a general uptick of interest it similar solutions. HP is positioning VirtualSystem as a growth path to CloudSystem, with what they describe as a “streamlined” upgrade path to a hybrid cloud environment.
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Cisco Makes The Charts – Now No. 3 In Blades

Richard Fichera

When Cisco began shipping UCS slightly over two years ago, competitor reaction ranged the gamut from concerned to gleefully dismissive of their chances at success in the server market. The reasons given for their guaranteed lack of success were a combination of technical (the product won’t really work), the economics (Cisco can’t live on server margins) to cultural (Cisco doesn’t know servers and can’t succeed in a market where they are not the quasi-monopolistic dominating player). Some ignored them, and some attempted to preemptively introduce products that delivered similar functionality, and in the two years following introduction, competitive reaction was very similar – yes they are selling, but we don’t think they are a significant threat.

Any lingering doubt about whether Cisco can become a credible supplier has been laid to rest with Cisco’s recent quarterly financial disclosures and IDC’s revelation that Cisco is now the No. 3 worldwide blade vendor, with slightly over 10% of worldwide (and close to 20% in North America) blade server shipments. In their quarterly call, Cisco revealed Q1 revenues of $171 million, for a $684 million revenue run rate, and claimed a booking run rate of $900 million annually. In addition, they placed their total customer count at 5,400. While actual customer count is hard to verify, Cisco has been reporting a steady and impressive growth in customers since initial shipment, and Forrester’s anecdotal data confirms both the significant interest and installed UCS systems among Forrester’s clients.

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Market Shares And Forecasts – Who Cares?

Richard Fichera

A recent RFP for consulting services regarding strategic platforms for SAP from a major European company which included, among other things, a request for historical and forecast data for all the relevant platforms broken down by region and a couple of other factors, got me thinking about the whole subject of the use and abuse of market share histories and forecasts.

The merry crew of I&O elves here at Forrester do a lot of consulting for companies all over the world on major strategic technology platform decisions – management software, DR and HA, server platforms for major applications, OS and data center migrations, etc. As you can imagine, these are serious decisions for the client companies, and we always approach these projects with an awareness of the fact that real people will make real decisions and spend real money based on our recommendations.

The client companies themselves usually approach these as serious diligences, and usually have very specific items they want us to consider, almost always very much centered on things that matter to them and are germane to their decision.

The one exception is market share history and forecasts for the relevant vendors under consideration. For some reason, some companies (my probably not statistically defensible impression is that it is primarily European and Japanese companies) think that there is some magic implied by these numbers. As you can probably guess from this elaborate lead-in, I have a very different take on their utility.

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The Mainstreaming of UCS - Cisco Announces Microsoft SQL Server Alliance

Richard Fichera

Entering into a new competitive segment, especially one dominated by major players with well-staked out turf, requires a level of hyperbole, dramatic positioning and a differentiable product. Cisco has certainly achieved all this and more in the first two years of shipment of its UCS product, and shows no signs of fatigue to date.

However, Cisco’s announcement this week that it is now part of Microsoft’s Fast Track Data Warehouse and Fast Track OLTP program is a sign that UCS is also entering the mainstream of enterprise technology. The Microsoft Fast Track program, offering a set of reference architectures, system specification and sizing guides for both common usage scenarios for Microsoft SQL Server, is not new, nor is it in any way unique to Cisco. Fast Track includes Dell, HP, IBM, and Bull. The fact that Cisco will now get equal billing from Microsoft in this program is significant – it is the beginning of the transition from emerging fringe to mainstream , and an endorsement to anyone in the infrastructure business that Cisco is now appearing on the same stage as the major incumbents.

Will this represent a breakthrough revenue opportunity for Cisco? Probably not, since Microsoft will be careful not to play favorites and will certainly not risk alienating its major systems partners, but Cisco’s inclusion on this list is another incremental step in becoming a mainstream server supplier. Like the chicken soup that my grandmother used to offer, it can’t hurt.

Egenera Lands HP As A Partner – A Win For Both

Richard Fichera

Egenera, arguably THE pioneer in what the industry is now calling converged infrastructure, has had a hard life. Early to market in 2000 with a solution that was approximately a decade ahead of its time, it offered an elegant abstraction of physical servers into what chief architect Maxim Smith described as “fungible and anonymous” resources connected by software defined virtual networks. Its interface was easy to use, allowing the definition of virtualized networks, NICs, servers with optional failover and pools of spare resources with a fluidity that has taken the rest of the industry almost 10 years to catch up to. Unfortunately this elegant presentation was chained to a completely proprietary hardware architecture, which encumbered the economics of x86 servers with an obsolete network fabric, expensive system controller and physical architecture (but it was the first vendor to include blue lights on its servers). The power of the PanManager software was enough to keep the company alive, but not enough to overcome the economics of the solution and put them on a fast revenue path, especially as emerging competitors began to offer partial equivalents at lower costs. The company is privately held and does not disclose revenues, but Forrester estimates it is still less than $100 M in annual revenues.

In approximately 2006, Egenera began the process of converting its product to a pure software offering capable of running on commodity server hardware and standard Ethernet switches. In subsequent years they have announced distribution arrangements with Fujitsu (an existing partner for their earlier products) and an OEM partnership with Dell, which apparently was not successful, since Dell subsequently purchased Scalent, an emerging software competitor. Despite this, Egenera claims that its software business is growing and has been a factor in the company’s first full year of profitability.

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Intel Ups The Ante At The High End With New E7 CPUs

Richard Fichera

Bigger, Better, Faster Xeon CPUs

Intel today publicly announced its anticipated “Westmere EX” high end Westmere architecture server CPU as the E7, now part of a new family nomenclature encompassing entry (E3), midrange (E5), and high-end server CPUs (E7), and at first glance it certainly looks like it delivers on the promise of the Westmere architecture with enhancements that will appeal to buyers of high-end x86 systems.

The E7 in a nutshell:

  • 32 nm CPU with up to 10 cores, each with hyper threading, for up to 20 threads per socket.
  •  Intel claims that the system-level performance will be up to 40% higher than the prior generation 8-core Nehalem EX. Notice that the per-core performance improvement is modest (although Intel does offer a SKU with 8 cores and a slightly higher clock rate for those desiring ultimate performance per thread).
  • Improvements in security with Intel Advanced Encryption Standard New Instruction (AES-NI) and Intel Trusted Execution Technology (Intel TXT).
  • Major improvements in power management by incorporating the power management capabilities from the Xeon 5600 CPUs, which include more aggressive P states, improved idle power operation, and the ability to separately reduce individual core power setting depending on workload, although to what extent this is supported on systems that do not incorporate Intel’s Node Manager software is not clear.
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ARM Servers - Calxeda Opens The Kimono For A Tantalizing Tease

Richard Fichera

Calxeda, one of the most visible stealth mode startups in the industry, has finally given us an initial peek at the first iteration of its server plans, and they both meet our inflated expectations from this ARM server startup and validate some of the initial claims of ARM proponents.

While still holding their actual delivery dates and details of specifications close to their vest, Calxeda did reveal the following cards from their hand:

  • The first reference design, which will be provided to OEM partners as well as delivered directly to selected end users and developers, will be based on an ARM Cortex A9 quad-core SOC design.
  • The SOC, as Calxeda will demonstrate with one of its reference designs, will enable OEMs to design servers as dense as 120 ARM quad-core nodes (480 cores) in a 2U enclosure, with an average consumption of about 5 watts per node (1.25 watts per core) including DRAM.
  • While not forthcoming with details about the performance, topology or protocols, the SOC will contain an embedded fabric for the individual quad-core SOC servers to communicate with each other.
  • Most significantly for prospective users, Calxeda is claiming, and has some convincing models to back up these claims, that they will provide a performance advantage of 5X to 10X the performance/watt and (even higher when price is factored in for a metric of performance/watt/$) of any products they expect to see when they bring the product to market.
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