NightHawk Sought a Consistent Platform
NightHawk was attracted to Cisco UCS because it was looking for a consistent
platform, Smith said.
"We could put our hardware into it-our blades in general-and we knew we'd be relying a lot on virtualization," Smith said. "We already had a non-trivial investment in virtualization, using the Xen hypervisor-mostly in testing. When I came to start comparing the various hardware solutions, it became clear to me that the UCS had been built from the ground up to be a virtualization powerhouse.
"It has 10Gb Ethernet [networking] throughout, it has extended memory-and that's usually the problem with virtualization, is that it runs out of memory before anything else, particularly with the powerful processes we have today.
"The unified fabric makes things a lot simpler, with less cabling, less infrastructure in general. Performance is excellent, too. Not having to drop Fibre Channel switch modules into every single blade chassis and separate HBA mezzanine cards into all the blades was also quite attractive," Smith said.
Manageability greatly improved
Smith also said the UCS Manager allows him to "manage just about everything you could want to do with the hardware-everything from what VLAN is being trunked to a machine to revisions of firmware to BIOS settings. It just made everything a lot easier."
Most of the alternatives were "a bunch of separate programs from the same vendor glued together in a bit of an ad hoc, patchwork interface," Smith said, "or they really were separate programs from separate vendors that sort of were bummed together in a package, with no real coherence. The UCS was, quite frankly, awesome from that perspective."
NightHawk now has configured eight Cisco UCS blades as VMware ESX servers, each hosting approximately 10 virtual machines, and has plans to double the number of virtual machines in the future, Smith said. NightHawk also uses the Cisco Nexus 1000V Switch, which operates inside the VMware ESX hypervisor to give the network team visibility into the virtual machine environment for more effective management, Smith said.
NetApp provides the scale-out storage for those thousands of images per day.
NightHawk has deployed a full suite of Cisco data center solutions. In addition to UCS and Nexus 5000 data center switches, the company also deployed Cisco Nexus 2000 Fabric Extenders, Cisco MDS storage switches and the Cisco Catalyst 4900 switch as part of the overall infrastructure. These enable NightHawk to deploy a unified fabric in the data center that uses less power and is easier to run, Smith said.
Cisco Services and World Wide Technology supported the project with design, planning and deployment details.
'Vendor lock-in' not a problem here
Does NightHawk worry about being beholden to a single vendor?
"Certainly in a business that has high growth and a need for flexibility, vendor lock-in can be very beneficial," Brande said. "It makes the decision process for which technology to use more streamlined. I'm not having to consider multiple proposals every time we need to deploy a new server or for a new capability."
Lock-in isn't always the correct term, Smith said.
"There are certainly vendors out there-once you start using their stuff-who will go out of their way to make it hard to get off it," Smith said. "With one [trusted] vendor, the hardware decisions become so much easier-the decisions almost make themselves."
Smith said that NightHawk has servers from all the major vendors in its legacy environment and that the Cisco system interacts quite well with them all.
"I wouldn't look at anything in the UCS as being isolating in any way," Brande said. "We can move our virtualization environment off the UCS platform relatively easily. But then we reintroduce a significant number of the operational inefficiencies we had before."