Cisco Tweaks UCS - New Interfaces, Management Software Expand Capabilities

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.

Taken as a whole, these improvements should help to communicate that Cisco intends to  allow their UCS environments to scale as customer requirements evolve, as well as nullifying some fo the competitor FUD about bandwidth limitations of UCS. They do not remove the fact that one of UCS’s weaknesses is that bandwidth scaling is decoupled from the scaling of the number of server nodes, but should move the bar higher for UCS users.

Additionally, Cisco announced UCSM 2.0, which includes features such as an integrated version of vMware vCenter and an express mode for simple configuration of smaller and remote UCS environments.

All in all, solid incremental improvement of an already strong product line. We expect that the upgrades of the I/O infrastructure will be followed at some point by improvements in compute nodes and possibly expanded scaling of the environment over time in order to respond to evolving customer demands.