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Cisco UCS – Quintessential Fabric-based computing – Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog series, I introduced Gartner’s definition of Fabric based infrastructure (FBI).  I explained the benefit of data center fabrics with the promise of continuing in a follow on blog.  Some readers rightly pointed out to me that I had not yet touched on the automation benefits. This video featuring Gartner analyst, Donna Scott and Cisco CTO Paul Perez provides a great overview of the benefits namely:

  • Capital cost savings with infrastructure consolidation
  • Lower operating costs with automation
  • Speed of implementation and infrastructure deployment
  • Better SLAs with faster recovery or migrations

Let’s dig a bit deeper and start by looking at the difference between a FBI server and a run of the mill server.  FBI essentially lets us define the profile of a server in software. The profile here refers to as many as 120 attributes of a physical server stored as meta data in a profile. These attributes include BIOS version, LAN connection parameters, SAN connection parameters, UUID, MAC Address etc.

fbi0srv

In the case of run of the mill servers some of these attributes remain the same throughout the life of the physical server. You may be able to alter other attributes with manual operations through proprietary user interfaces.  As shown in the figure above, the server identity (service profile) of a FBI server is abstracted from the physical server.

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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.

Screenshot_2_22_13_10_28_AM

 

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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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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Unified Computing (UCS) Third-Generation Fabric Computing: The Power of Unification

March 5, 2012 at 6:00 am PST

Very soon Intel is going to announce  a new generation of processors. Cisco and Intel partnership increased significantly over the past years with the astonishing success of the Unified Computing Systems, based on Intel processors and the unique technology provided by Cisco.

So guess what ? We are of course ready to announce a third generation of Unified Computing Systems, which are taking advantage of the new features delivered by Intel, combined with the latest innovations from Cisco.

So please join us on March 8th at 9:00 am PST (12:00 pm EST) to understand how Cisco is delivering on the vision of Gartner, which identified Fabric Computing as the preferred infrastructure for virtualization and cloud to make your  data center architecture more agile, scalable, and adaptable.

What can you expect from this 60 minutes webcast ? Well Cisco CEO John Chambers,  VP Server Access and Virtualization Soni Jiandani,but also Intel senior executives, and CEOs from large organizations (manufacturers, services..)  will detail the financial and organizational benefits that you will get in deploying these new systems.

John Chambers

Soni Jiandani

To register immediately  to this live broadcast

and learn how you can improve significantly now your infrastructure  click here

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Cisco data center fabric – vision, evolution, benefits

Among all the IT domains, perhaps the most action is in the data center, and by extension, in the cloud. Virtualization has taken root, and delivered a lot of operational efficiency. It has provided some interesting challenges as well. Virtual Machine (VM) mobility is one.  Tracking workloads as they move between servers, within and across data centers is more fun than most people imagined. So, how does one take this dynamic environment, and leverage it to fulfill requirements such as:

  • Delivering anything as a service – handling heterogeneous workloads for any application
  • Dealing with VM mobility – optimizing resource allocation across any location
  • Offering dynamic response – responding to real-time requirements at any scale

How does one solve these emerging challenges to achieve the next levels of productivity and efficiency?

For quite some time, Cisco has believed in the promise of “going beyond silos” (Yeah, that’s the campaign we launched as well, for those of you who saw the recent ads). But awareness campaigns apart, the concept is pretty simple – how do we take some of the traditional silos in the data center like the network, compute, storage and application services and bring them together – holistically – to deliver better efficiency, resource utilization, simplicity and cost benefits.

Fundamentally, this is the promise of Cisco’s data center fabric approach – it delivers on the vision of a high-performance, shared infrastructure, that brings together the network, compute, storage access elements, and L4-7 application services into a tightly integrated resource. It is open, integrated, flexible, scalable, resilient and secure.  And it is built off a vision that Cisco has been executing for 3+ years now on the foundation of Unified Fabric, Unified Network Services and Unified Computing. This foundation will form the bedrock for customers looking to move towards cloud-based models exploring application independence, location freedom and massive scale.

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