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Why Implement Microsoft SQL Server on Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS)?


November 4, 2014 - 8 Comments

A Guest Blog by Cisco’s Frank Cicalese:  Frank is a Technical Solutions Architect with Cisco, assisting customers with their design of SQL Server solutions on Cisco Unified Compute System. Before joining Cisco, Frank worked at Microsoft Corporation for 10 years, excelling in several positions, including as Database TSP. Frank has in-depth technical knowledge and proficiency with database design, optimization, replication, and clustering and has extensive virtualization, identity and access management and application development skills. He has established himself as an architect who can tie core infrastructure, collaboration, and application development platform solutions together in a way that drives understanding and business value for the companies he services.

Ah yes, it’s that time of year again.  It’s time for PASS Summit! I hope all of you are having a great event thus far. During my conversations with customers and peers, I am inevitably asked “Why should we implement SQL on UCS?”  In this blog I cover this very common question. First off, for those of you not familiar with Cisco UCS, please visit here when you have a moment to learn more about this great server architecture. So, why would anyone want to consider running their SQL workloads on Cisco UCS?  Read on to learn about what I consider to be the top reasons to do so…

Mitigate Risk: 

High availability is one of the most important factors for companies when it comes to considering an architecture for their database implementations.  UCS provides companies with the confidence that their database implementations will be able to recover quickly from any catastrophic datacenter event in minutes as opposed to the hours if not days that it would take to recover on a competing architecture.  UCS Manager achieves this through its implementation of Service Profiles.  Service Profiles contain the identity of a server.  The UCS servers themselves are stateless and do not acquire their personality (state) until they are associated with a Service Profile.  This stateless type of architecture allows for the re-purposing of server hardware dynamically and can be utilized for re-introducing failed hardware back in to production within five to seven minutes.

Service Profiles can provide considerable relief for SQL Server administrators when re-introducing failed servers back in to production. Service Profiles make this a snap!  Just un-associate the Service Profile from the downed server, associate it with a spare server and the workload will be back up and running in five to seven minutes.  This is true for both virtualized and bare-metal workloads!  Yes!  You read that last statement correctly!!  Regardless of the workload being virtual or bare-metal, Cisco UCS can move the workload from one server to another in five to seven minutes (providing they are truly stateless i.e., booting from SAN).

Foster Standardization:

Since every server in UCS that is serving a workload requires that a Service Profile be associated with it, Cisco UCS Manager provides the ability to create Service Profile Templates which ease the administrative effort involved with the creation of Service Profiles.  Server administrators can configure Service Profile Templates specifically for their SQL Servers and foster consistent standardization of their SQL Server implementations throughout the enterprise via these templates.  Once the templates are created, Service Profiles can be created from these templates and associated to a server in seconds.  Furthermore, these operations can be scripted via Cisco’s Open XML API and/or PowerShell integration (discussed next) simplifying the deployment process even more.

To learn more about Service Profile Templates and Service Profiles, please visit here.

Manage Workloads Efficiently: 

Cisco UCS has very tight integration with Microsoft System Center.  Via Cisco’s Operations Manager Pack, Orchestrator Integration Pack, PowerShell PowerTool and Cisco’s extensions to Microsoft’s Hyper-V switch, administrators are able to monitor, manage and maintain their SQL Server implementations proactively and efficiently on Cisco UCS.  Additionally, Cisco’s PowerTool for PowerShell, with its many cmdlets, can help to automate any phase of management with System Center thus optimizing the overall management/administration of Cisco UCS even more so.  All of this integration comes as a value-add from Cisco at no extra cost!

Please visit http://communities.cisco.com/ucs to learn more about, download and evaluate Cisco’s Operations Manager Pack, Orchestrator Integration Pack and PowerShell PowerTool.

Achieve High Consolidation Ratios:  

Cisco UCS provides large amounts of compute and memory per standard rack unit and it does not stop there.  On other blade systems, companies implementing large, virtualized SQL Server workloads often find their systems do not have enough I/O to service the workloads and must resort to adding more blades and/or ports to their environment.  This risk is reduced considerably on Cisco UCS due to its implementation of converged adapters.  The  Cisco UCS Virtual Interface Card 1280, 1240 and 1225 adapter cards have the ability to expose up to 256 NIC and/or HBA devices to a host and can provide between 20 Gb (1225) to 80 Gb (1280/1240) of network throughput.  Network and storage bandwidth are paramount for successfully consolidating SQL Server workloads and these highly innovative adapter cards from Cisco make UCS a very attractive server platform for virtualized or bare-metal SQL Server workloads.

For more information on Cisco’s Virtual Interface Cards, please visit this page.

Reduce Complexity:  

The ideal data driven architecture, even in its simplest form, is quite complex containing many tiers in the form of front, middle and back-end servers of many types.  The ideal architecture supporting this type of implementation provides the ability to expand, secure, scale and maintain availability at all levels of the architecture as simply and efficiently as possible.  Cisco UCS implements a highly integrated infrastructure which can simplify the architecture significantly by reducing the total number of components required for the solution overall, reduce administrative complexities through its efficient set of centralized management tools that integrate with Microsoft’s System Center, and reduce configuration complexities via Service Profiles and Service Profile Templates which can help to reduce the typical overhead required with the configuration and deployment of the many different server types required in these multi-tiered implementations.    With its “wire once – configure many” approach to management, an architecture implemented on Cisco UCS can by re-configured and expanded with minimal effort which can really help to scale a solution as needed and deliver it to market quickly.  Add its robust role-based access control that is simple to implement and Cisco UCS provides a platform that meets the criteria for even the most complex application architectures.  All this while maintaining the security, ease of use, availability, scalability, and expandability requirements that are critical components for these types of data-driven applications.

Enhance Your End-User Experience: 

The supporting infrastructure for any solution is fundamental to the end-user experience.  The UCS architecture can greatly enhance database implementations by empowering knowledge workers with self-service capabilities that are critical to their role.  This provides them the ability to create the types of services that they require dynamically without having to ask IT to deliver it for them. This not only offloads the task from IT and reduces support requests, but it also empowers IT to focus on more important tasks such as the performance and availability of the solution overall.   Also, self-service capabilities ultimately help the knowledge worker to complete their analytical tasks more quickly.  This, in turn, allows the company to make proactive business decisions in a timely manner which can have a strong impact on the organization’s success.   Cisco UCS can help to accomplish this through its role-based access control which can enable the various business units (BU) in an organization to manage their own set of server resources.  By simply providing the appropriate BU members with the proper access levels to a subset of servers will empower them to manage their own servers without the company having to be concerned about them having access to resources they should not.  A good working example of this is the case of application developers managing their own set of servers where they often need to re-build servers for testing, etc.  Typically, especially when dealing with bare-metal implementations, these server refreshes are left to the server admins.  Cisco UCS provides companies with the ability to provide their teams with flexible management options when it comes to their usage requirements.

To learn more about role-based access control in Cisco UCS, please visit here

Of course there are more reasons to implement SQL on Cisco UCS but I covered the most common ones that I see customers benefiting from here in this post.  I will be posting more of the benefits on twitter during PASS so please check for my posts there under the tags #CiscoUCS #SQLPASS #Summit14

Enjoy PASS Summit14!



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8 Comments

  1. Hi Rex , as a UCS customer I agreed the advantages of the UCS , let me have one quick questions here to understand . 1# If I have one chassis with 8 blades . The 8th one can I set it as a failover blade as a proactive measure to automatic fail over in the case any ONE of the blade fails . I have severe SLA from the client even though SQL hosted on bare metal installation of TWO nodes. Appreciate your inputs . Thanks - Hari

    • Hari, Service Profiles are not to be considered a replacement for SQL Server Fail-Over Clustering. SQL Server Fail-Over Clustering should be your first choice for maintaining data integrity and redundancy. That said, there are a few ways to accomplish your objectives: You could develop an app that leverages Cisco UCS's XML API to automate the un-association/association of the Service Profile to the spare blade. While I cannot share it, I have built a C++ app that monitors a workload and should it become non-responsive, the app will speak to the XML API and instruct UCS to move the workload to a spare blade. Another way would be to leverage our System Center integration to receive notifications based on the health of a server and launch a PowerShell script to do something similar to the functionality I describe above. System Center's Pro TIPS may be able to help here as well: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh882399.aspx Finally, I must say that a simple manual process is still exponentially faster than what most companies are experiencing today on other hardware platforms. I hope this helps, Frank Cicalese

      • HI Frank , Awesome , you have stated clearly what I am looking for. Let me try one experiment with UCSM and will keep you posted as I have something in my mind :) as a different solution . Regards Hari Rajan

  2. Nice write up. Please do a similar for Windows Server 2012 R2

  3. I liked this article, it's well written. In the area of risk mitigation, the Service Profile may be applied to blade in another chassis and I/O in another rack giving another later of datacenter physical redundancy.

  4. Excellent as always Frank. Just one more point: you allude to TCO savings but didn't expand on it. For anyone interested in UCS TCO, check out this presentation. While not SQL specific, it is all applicable. http://www.slideshare.net/Ciscodatacenter/cisco-unified-computing-system-ucs-changing-the-economics-datacenter-21179192

  5. Very good write up!

    • Marc, Thanks! Yes, Frank did well here...