Cisco expands UCS networking portfolio

Cisco this week expanded its Unified Computing System (UCS) networking portfolio in an effort to improve the scalability and performance of the data centre consolidation system.

At its Cisco Live customer conference, Cisco added fabric interconnects, a virtual interface card, a chassis I/O module and an update of its UCS management software to the UCS portfolio. The extensions are intended to address challenges IT managers face in adopting virtualisation, controlling costs, and scaling to meet growing business demands.

Travelport, a service provider for the travel industry, is using UCS to make server provisioning faster and more agile as traffic growth strains the company’s network and IT infrastructure.

“We were spending a lot of IT man-hours cabling individual servers to access switches,” says Steven Senecal, manager of global server engineering for Travelport. “There was an increased risk of human errors through recabling, and our business growth was outpacing the scale of our infrastructure.”

UCS and its associated products allowed Travelport to deploy 190 servers in six hours, with service profiles for applications assigned and provisioned, and turned over to other IT teams within three days. The firm turned up another 1,304 blades this week with several hundred more planned by October, just before a heavy travel season with the end-of-year holidays.

“Our problem now is that the product teams think we can turn over servers really fast now,” Senecal said, adding that UCS is increasing server performance eightfold.

UCS’ momentum recently allowed Cisco to become the third leading blade server vendor worldwide, and second in the U.S. in the first quarter. To keep that momentum going, Cisco this week rolled out the networking extensions for UCS.

First is the Fabric Interconnect 6248UP. This supports Cisco’s Unified Port capability, which allows IT managers to designate any port to be Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel (2/4/8 gigabits per second) or Fibre Channel over Ethernet. It doubles the UCS system switching capacity to 1Tbps and 48 Unified Ports, and results in a 40% reduction in end-to-end latency, Cisco says.

Next is the Fabric Extender 2208XP Chassis IO Module, which doubles bandwidth to the blade chassis to 160Gbps.

Third, Cisco unveiled a Virtual Interface Card — the VIC 1280 — that quadruples bandwidth to the server through dual 40G interfaces, up from dual 10G on previous VICs. VIC 1280 also supports 256 virtual interfaces, double the number of previous-generation VIC interfaces.

VIC 1280 is based on the IEEE’s 802.1Qbh standard for Bridge Port Extension and also supports RedHat’s KVM hypervisor.

Last, Cisco updated the UCS Manager with Release 2.0. The software, which manages all system configuration and operations for UCS, now supports VMware vCenter virtualisation management to enable IT to organise, provision and configure the virtualised environment across branch offices and the data centre.

UCS Manager 2.0 also now allows users to run the UCS Fabric in end host mode rather than switch mode, and can connect management, backup, production and test networks to the Fabric Interconnect in End Host Mode.

All UCS enhancements announced this week are interoperable with the existing UCS 5108 Blade Chassis for investment protection, Cisco says.

Cisco says it now has 5,400 UCS customers and is adding 1,000 every quarter. 60% of these customers are in the U.S., with 55% to 60% of them in enterprises, 20% in service providers, and the remainder in the public sector.

“60% to 70% of UCS customers used to be HP server customers, while others were IBM and Dell,” said Soni Jiandani, VP of Cisco’s Server Access Virtualisation Business Unit.

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