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Cisco UCS – Quintessential Fabric-based computing – Part 1

In the last fiscal quarter Cisco UCS reached another milestone with 20,000 (87% Y/Y growth) customers. The (no longer) new data center paradigm of fabric based computing must be resulting in unique customer benefits, and hence the market traction. Gartner defines Fabric based computing as follows:

Fabric-based computing (FBC) is a modular form of computing in which a system can be aggregated from separate (or disaggregated) building-block modules connected over a fabric or switched backplane. Fabric-based infrastructure (FBI) differs from FBC by enabling existing technology elements to be grouped and packaged in a fabric-enabled environment, while the technology elements of an FBC solution will be designed solely around the fabric implementation model.

In this video Gartner analyst Donna Scott and Cisco CTO Paul Perez discuss the adoption of Fabric-based computing and the benefits that customers experience with it.

I will dive deeper into why customers experience benefits with the Cisco Unified Computing System.  So lets start with the term “Fabric”.   A Lippis report helps us understand the data center fabric.  In this tech target article by Michael Brandenburg we get some more background.

Excerpts:

Legacy three-tiered data center architecture was designed to service the heavy north-south traffic of client-server applications, while enabling network administrators to manage the flow of traffic.  Engineers adopted spanning tree protocol (STP) in these architectures to optimize the path from the client to server and allow for link redundancy. STP worked well to support client-server applications and its traffic flows, but proved inefficient for server-to-server or east-west communications associated with distributed application architecture.

…Server virtualization compounds the problem with spanning tree and the three-tiered architecture.

… data center fabric, a network where traffic from any port can reach any other node with as few latency-inducing hops as possible.

This is eye opening for those of us who live in the server and application world. Bottom line – the data center fabric will result in fewer hops and lower latency for servers communicating with each other in the data center.

So how is this achieved within the Cisco Unified Computing System? This is done with the Fabric Interconnect, which is the I/O hub and the very soul of the system. The Fabric interconnect consolidates three separate networks: LANs, SANs, and high-performance computing networks.   The Fabric Interconnect provides consolidated access to both SAN storage and network attached storage (NAS) over the fabric. This means the Cisco Unified Computing System servers can access storage over Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and iSCSI. It also lowers costs by reducing the number of network adapters, switches, and cables.

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The Cisco UCS Manager, which is the embedded device manger software in the Fabric Interconnect, gives users the ability to slice and dice this big chunk of physical network capacity of the system into much smaller subunits, with the ability to do it flexibly and to change the decisions with software configuration. With Cisco UCS, IT organizations can now deliver dynamic network infrastructure or network services across all types of applications—from applications like Oracle, SAP, three tier J2EEE, and Microsoft to virtualized applications from VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix.

In his blog John McCool ,Cisco SVP and CTO, defines Fabric as “… a highly available, high performance shared infrastructure built with integrated, intelligent compute, storage and network nodes that can be rapidly and simply organized around the requirements of a given workload.” In part 2 of this blog I will detail the automation and management of the fabric-based compute nodes (upto 160) connected to a single pair of UCS Fabric Interconnects.

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Lynn Wins Big with Cisco Technology – Successfully Hosts Presidential Debate

February 21, 2013 at 8:49 am PST

Lynn University is a 50-year old private, coeducational institution located in Boca Raton, Florida.  So how was this fairly small and quiet school selected to host the final 2012 presidential debate?  It’s booming with technological innovation.

The school has long held the belief that student collaboration and sharing of knowledge is vital to the learning process, but realized with time, they need to increase student support through technology.  To move to a 1-to-1 program entailed giving each student an iPad and overhauling its network environment. In late 2011, as this transformation was underway, Lynn discovered that they would also soon be the youngest school to ever host a presidential debate.

This meant the school had less than a year to undergo a complete technical refresh, so Lynn turned to Cisco for help. University CIO Chris Boniforti summed up his decision to select Cisco by saying “All of our diverse technical requirements, for both the debate and the university, could be done under one umbrella, with one vendor, and that was Cisco.”

This umbrella of technology included Cisco wireless solutions, Cisco Unified Computing System and Cisco security, voice and IP communications. Cisco joined forces with longtime partner Modcomp to deliver a solution the university could use well beyond the presidential debate.  The result:  A successful implementation that resulted in a “technically smooth” debate.

It’s important to note this project didn’t shut down once the debate was over.  Today, the school is committed to providing a mobile platform for its entire faculty and students by the time the newest crop of freshmen arrive in fall later this year.  The addition of the new business school will include lecture capture and resources-sharing tools, including video.  Now embedded in the teaching environment, this benefit would not have been possible without Lynn’s new Cisco network.

I’m personally impressed with the university’s commitment to technology.  They are a great example for other small schools looking for cost-effective innovation. What do you think?  Is your school ready for this kind of transformation?

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Got lots of data? No problem for Cisco UCS

In a recent interview, the Director of IT Operations at a New York based Enterprise said that one of the biggest problems he was facing was maintaining customer satisfaction on performance as the data deluge grew unabated.  According to an IDC 2012 report “..Data creation is taking place at an unprecedented rate and is currently growing at over 60% per year. IDC’s Digital Universe Study predicts that between 2009 and 2020, digital data will grow 44-fold to 35ZB per year..”. One ZB or Zettabyte is 1000 billion gigabytes… you get the picture.

The implications are that more data will be stored and processed on servers.  Data could be on local disks or it could be in some large storage arrays, which are connected to the server by a network.  It may be pre-processed and stored in a database for faster analysis.  The computer (server) or applications must now quickly access the partially processed or raw data.  The data could be structured as in ERP solutions or unstructured and handled by scale out Big Data applications. Nevertheless, data will have to flow back and forth through the network connecting servers and the storage.  Additionally as Client Virtualization gains traction, data center servers would need to access large files located in storage devices most likely connected through networks.  These use cases are addressed by the Cisco UCS and Fusion-IO partnership and therefore generated a whole lot of interest in the June 2012 announcement.   In a recent interview at CiscoLive London, Cisco Executive, Paul Perez, reiterated the importance of the collaboration, and benefits to Cisco UCS customers.

So how does Fusion-io ioDrive2 accelerate data access? It optimizes the use of existing network bandwidth for data i/o intensive workloads with a low

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Fabric-Based Infrastructure and Cisco UCS Servers

Fabric-Based Infrastructure and Cisco UCS

A good segue to Fabric-Based Infrastructure is Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Blade Servers (March 2012), by Andrew Butler and George Weiss.  To fully understand the tie in with Fabric-Based Infrastructure I suggest reading the section on Cisco UCS.  Their observations are important because they tie directly to the subject of this blog.   You will also get a better feel for why Cisco UCS is having such rapid customer adoption worldwide.

The emphasis for Fabric-Based Infrastructure is delivering value-add functionality that enables data centers to operate more efficiently and cost effectively.  A good place to start is by looking at this Gartner report by George Weiss and Donna Scott -- Fabric-Based Infrastructure Enablers and Inhibitors Through the Lens of User Experiences (April 2012).  In this short research note, George and Donna go into the key drivers and reasons for the FBI architecture and the benefits that their clients have seen.  My take away for the key benefits of Fabric-Based Infrastructure are:

  1. OpEx and CapEx savings
  2. Increased VM density
  3. Time-To-Deploy reduced from months to hours via automation and standards implementation;
  4. Reduce cost and complexity and improve agility;
  5. Improved resiliency by recreating servers and connectivity in minutes using profiles and templates

While reading about a technology innovation is helpful, actually listening to experts discuss the architecture and give their individual perspectives can be more so.

I suggest that you make time to listen to this 34 minute video with featured guest Donna Scott (a VP and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner) and Paul Perez (VP and CTO for the Data Center Business Group at Cisco Systems) -- Fabric-Based Infrastructure (FBI) in Today’s Data Center.  Donna looks at the motivations and impact of customers moving to a Fabric Based Infrastructure with an eye toward what is important to adopters.  Then Paul discusses Cisco UCS innovations and how they let FBI adopters achieve their goals.  If you would like, you can download a podcast of the video from theCisco Analyst Reports page.

From my perspective the truly compelling part of this story is the extent to which Cisco UCS makes the promise of Fabric-Based Infrastructure a reality, while emphasizing safety, security and the risk reduction.  These are critical considerations in today’s IT environment.  Cisco continues to be a key innovator in data center technology and is continuing to grow from strength to strength, delivering value and benefit for your long term application solution needs.

Below is how I think a Fabric-Based Infrastructure should look.  Of course I am predisposed.  Cisco UCS architecture provides the ability to define and manage over 120 different server identity parameters via service profile templates, using a native tool with Roles Based Access Controls and across geographies.  UCS enables you to have a distributed environment that is centrally managed.  Your admins can also use CLI, custom designed tools / scripts, or third party tools as they choose to meet the needs of their current management structure. Cloyd

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Cisco UCS Delivers the Best 2-socket SAP Sales and Distribution (SD) on Linux Benchmark Results

Cisco announced the best 2-socket SAP Sales and Distribution (SD) on Linux Benchmark result with the Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®) delivering impressive scalability and performance to growing deployments of SAP Business Suite applications.

Cisco’s results on the SAP Sales and Distribution (SD) Benchmark support for up to 6,530 concurrent users and a 35,680 SAP Application Performance Standard (SAPS) score derived from the processing of 713,670 order line items per hour and 2,141,000 dialog steps per hour.

The benchmark results successfully demonstrate how a Cisco UCS® B200 M3 Blade Server delivers high scalability and low latency to SAP Business Suite solutions by supporting up to 6,530 concurrent users in a Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Sybase ASE environment. High-performance blade servers and network fabrics enables application throughput optimization as Cisco UCS handles many SAP application tasks, with results showing that the system can process 713,670 order line items per hour or 2,141,000 dialog steps per hour.

 The tested configuration consisted of a Cisco Unified Computing System™ chassis equipped with one Cisco UCS B200 M3 Blade Server running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.3. The server was configured with two 2.90-GHz, 8-core Intel® Xeon® processor E5-2690 CPUs and 256 GB of 1600-MHz memory. The blade server ran both the SAP Business Suite application software and the 64-bit Sybase ASE Server 15.7. The SAP Enhancement Package 5 for SAP Enterprise Resource Planning 6.0 was used in this scenario. One LSI 400GB SLC WarpDrive provided solid-state disk capacity for database log files that require low-latency write access.

The “Cisco UCS B200 M3 Blade Server: Scalable Performance and Capacity for SAP Business Suite Applications” Performance Brief provides additional benchmark configuration details.Official Benchmark Certification is available at the  SAP® Standard Application Benchmarks certification web site.

 Cisco UCS deployed with Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® provides additional flexibility, efficiency and savings. Combined with enterprise-class open source operating system Cisco UCS servers are the perfect foundation for any standards-based infrastructure solution. The LSI 400GB SLC WarpDrive enables storage performance to be decoupled from storage capacity. Using solid-state disk technology and intelligent caching software, the LSI 400GB SLC WarpDrive integrates a powerful new memory tier that is uniquely designed to accelerate in-server application performance for database workloads.

 By deploying SAP Business Suite on Cisco UCS configured with Red Hat® Enterprise Linux®, LSI solid-state storage and running Sybase ASE Server, IT departments can support more users and accelerate response. IT departments can choose from a full range of Cisco UCS blade and rack server models to scale deployments further with larger servers, or add servers, to create scale-out deployments with a small footprint. These innovations and a dramatic reduction in the number of physical components demonstrate Cisco’s commitment to delivering systems that provide value to SAP deployments.

Please check the SAP Press Release covering this benchmark for additional details: “SAP Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise Scores Top Two-Processor and Four-Processor Linux Performance Results on Two-Tier SAP SD Standard Application

 Girish Kulkarni

Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Unified Computing System 

gikulkar@cisco.com

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