Cisco Intros New UCS Blade, Rack Servers

The new Intel-based systems are aimed at a wide range of workloads, from virtualization and databases to Web 2.0 and big data.

Cisco Systems is expanding its converged Unified Computing Systems portfolio, adding four new Intel-powered servers that are primarily aimed at scale-out environments as well as a new virtual networking card.

The offerings include two new rack servers and a blade server powered by Intel€™s new Xeon E5-2400 chips for dual-socket systems, and another blade system running on Xeon E5-4600 processors, for four-socket servers. Intel released the two chip families in May, complementing the Xeon E5-2600 processors that were launched in March.

Cisco officials are leveraging them to expand the reach of their UCS line of converged data center solutions, which the company first rolled out three years ago. The networking giant has since seen its UCS business grow rapidly, now reaching more than 11,000 customers and having an annual run rate of almost $1.3 billion. Cisco also has more than 2,000 channel partners selling the solution.

The new systems come three months after Cisco launched UCS 3.0, which included new servers powered by the Xeon E5-2600 chips, expanded fabric capabilities and new integrated networking and virtualization features. The latest offerings complement what Cisco already has done with the solution, according to Todd Brannon, product marketing manager for unified computing at Cisco.

€œThese new servers round out the UCS portfolio with an even stronger set of products optimized for scale-out and light general-purpose computing as well as a new price/performance [four-socket] category in the mid-range,€ Brannon said in a June 18 blog post.

In addition, the new Virtual Interface Card (VIC) will add capabilities to what Brannon said is an important part of the overall story around the UCS.

€œOne of the key differentiators of UCS is the way in which high-capacity server network access has been aggregated through Cisco Virtual Interface Cards and infused with built-in high-performance virtual networking capabilities,€ he wrote. €œIn €˜pre-UCS€™ server system architectures, one of the main design considerations was the type and quantity of physical network adapters required. €¦ In UCS, I/O is effectively taken off the table as a design worry because every server gets its full USRDA [U.S. recommended daily allowance] of networking through the VIC: heaping portions of bandwidth, rich with Fabric Extender technology vitamins that yield hundreds of Ethernet and FC adapters through one physical device. Gone are the days of hemming and hawing over how many mezz card slots your blade has or how many cards you€™re going to need to feed that hungry stack of VM€™s on your rack server. This simplification changes things for the better because it takes a lot of complication out of the equation.€

Introducing the UCS in 2009 marked a significant change in direction for Cisco. The all-in-one data center solution not only was featuring Cisco€™s networking technology, but also Cisco-branded servers, as well as storage capabilities from EMC and NetApp and virtualization from VMware. Cisco became a server vendor, putting it in direct competition with companies like Hewlett-Packard, which had been a strong partner.

It also helped dial up the competition in the converged data center market, sparking others like HP and IBM to grow their offerings. Earlier this month, Dell unveiled its Converged Blade Data Center, which combines Dell€™s 12th Generation PowerEdge servers, new EqualLogic storage blade arrays and Force10 MXL blade switching.

For its new servers, Cisco is leveraging the work Intel is doing with processors, Cisco€™s Bannon said. The new servers, which are aimed at such tasks as Web 2.0, big data and mainstream IT infrastructure, include the UCS B22 M3 blade and C22 M3 and C24 M3 rack systems, all powered by Intel Xeon E5-2400 processors.

In addition, Cisco is rolling out the B420 M3 blade system, which runs on Intel€™s Xeon E5-4600 chips and is aimed at such workloads as virtualization and databases. The system supports 1.5 terabytes of memory and, with the new VIC1225 technology, offers up to 160G bps of I/O bandwidth.

€œIntel has brought four socket server options, formerly the province of the mission-critical, €˜EX end of the spectrum, down into the mainstream,€ Bannon wrote. €œAn example of this is our new UCS B420 blade. So if you want four socket core count and performance but don€™t necessarily need the comprehensive RAS [reliability, availability, serviceability] features of an EX class system, you now have a price/performance optimized solution for that need.€

Intel introduced the Xeon E5-2400 and E5-4600 chips to ensure that the company is offering processor technology for a wide range of workloads, according to Boyd Davis, vice president and general manager of Intel€™s Data Center Infrastructure Group.

€œThe data center€™s a complicated place,€ Davis said in an interview with Cisco taped during the Cisco Live conference. €œJust delivering application performance isn€™t enough. You have to deliver balance, and you really have to fit into the environments that customers are deploying today.€