• 09/04/2014
    2:20 PM
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Cisco Doubles Down On UCS Servers

Cisco builds on its success in servers with new models in the Unified Computing System line and the assumption that data will only get bigger.

Having found itself in the enviable (yet bizarre) position as the No. 1 blade server vendor in the Americas, Cisco is capitalizing on that success. The company announced a major expansion of its Unified Computing System portfolio, aimed at cloud-scale, midmarket, and edge applications.

New products included the Cisco UCS Mini, an all-in-one box targeted at remote sites, branch offices, and small IT environments. Loaded with UCS software, the mini allows Cisco to push the platform out further into the ecosystem and support more processing power in distributed locations. The company also announced 4th-generation UCS rack and blade servers and a new UCS Director version aimed at big data analysis.

Perhaps more importantly, Cisco rolled out the UCS M-Series modular servers, intended for cloud-scale environments. In a press conference, UCS vice president and general manager Paul Perez described the M-Series as a "disaggregated" server, saying Cisco had "taken apart what a server is and put it back together in a more efficient way."

Padmasree Warrior, Cisco’s chief technology and strategy officer, also announced a partnership between Cisco and Red Hat that will provide an integrated infrastructure for UCS and the Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack platform.

According to Warrior, the integrated systems will include a starter edition for private clouds, an advanced edition for large private clouds, and an advanced ACI edition for deploying scale-out clouds.

Cisco is betting on a great deal of demand for cloud-scale architecture to support hybrid cloud, big data initiatives, and what it terms the Internet of Everything. At the core of that, said Warrior, is the compute platform.

The real benefits of UCS come with its management and policy capabilities, Jim McHugh, vice president of product marketing for UCS, told me in an interview. Most businesses can't properly process and analyze the business data they have now, never mind the large projections in growth that are coming. UCS can help them manage that.

"The data sets and application scale of today's businesses are growing at rapid scale. The ability to make faster decisions based on deeper intelligence can make a huge difference to business outcomes," McHugh said. As an example, Cisco's press conference showcased MLB Advanced Media’s CTO Joe Inzerillo, who described how Major League Baseball manipulates data in real-time to produce current statistics.

Over the last several years, as the popularity of streaming and analyzing sports online has grown, Inzerillo has expanded his environment from one to six datacenters using UCS. He estimated his company generated 15 petabytes of content last year and will produce 25 petabytes in 2015.


Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

The UCS Mini box looks a lot like an answer to VMware's fragment of a rack convered infrastructure, the EVO:Rail, built around a 2u space in a server rack. It too can serve as a branch office/remote office type of installation. VMware just announced EVO:Rail Aug. 25.

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

Charlie, it certainly does -- the vendors are all just trying to keep up with each other while telling everyone how their products are really light years ahead. I was very impressed that during all the UCS hoopla I did not hear them utter the words "converged infrastructure" or "hyperconvergence" once.

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

'I was very impressed that during all the UCS hoopla I did not hear them utter the words "converged infrastructure" or "hyperconvergence" once'.

Yep, probably for two reasons; the first of which is their majority stake in VCE; the second being their recently signed OEM agreement with Simplivity, similar to the one Dell has with Nutanix!

My understanding is that this is Cisco's first generation of UCS to be optimised for east-west traffic, representing a fundamental shift in the architecture, sounds to me they've finally conformed to the general industry consensus.

As for EVO Rail, isn't this just another reference architecture?

I recall a bit of a stir when Microsoft submitted one of these to OCP 


Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

Analyzing sports was made mainstream by the movie "Moneyball". It took sporting stats from being passive to dynamic and requiring real-time analysis, a lot like Facebook's home page that requires multiple servers in multiple locations to construct a single home page. As the number of businesses that require real-time analysis grows, this will continue to create demand for servers that can handle east-west traffic.

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

Brian, I am not a huge sports fan and I didn't see Moneyball, so at first I not really catch on to the sports analysis example. But Cisco has used this case study a couple times in presentations I've seen and the CTO is very good at explaining things and really enthusiastic. And Jim McHugh from Cisco gave me a little insight about why they chose it. He said most people (especially IT buyers) can relate to sports, and sports stats. And its something they already use, its easy and fast, and they trust the accuracy. If you can do all of these neat things with baseball data, imagine what could be accomplished in other industries.

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

Being an Oakland A's fan, "Moneyball" is one of my favorite movies (although analytics aren't helping the team lately, ugh). The MLB case study is an interesting one for Cisco to highlight.

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

@Susan, agreed, if a fraction of the data that's housed with businesses at the moment is analyzed, the value that would be unlocked would be huge. If enough businesses do the same, this would have positive effects on the economy.

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

Mus, the business relationships here are getting so inbred and convoluted, I really can't keep track. Do you think that's to the detriment of customers, that the vendors are more worried about one-upping each other and stepping on one another's marketing jargon, or do you think the products coming out are rising above that?

As for EVO Rail, VMware says it's not technically a reference architecture because only specific partners can sell and support it, and it will be available as a single SKU.

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

Sue, I don't think I could have put it more eloquently myself, LOL!

As much as it pains me to say it, this sort of goes someway to validating a recent Greg Ferro RANT, from the vendor side it increasingly appears like a desperate land grab, through as many channels as possible. Certainly appears to be practical enough for general purpose workloads, where I'd air the most caution is  when it concerns mission critical workloads and those 'ease of management' claims.

From what I've observed thus far the M-Series is not to dissimilar to what HP announced 1/2-years back with Moonshot, which hasn't exactly been hitting the headlines as of late 

Single SKU, now where have I heard that before? 

Re: Cisco's UCS Mini an answer to VMware's EVO:Rail?

Mus, thanks for the validation -- especially because I wasn't sure I was explaining myself that well when I wrote the comment! It does seem like all of the larger vendors are becoming infrastructure and software/cloud companies, and the startups just hope they'll get bought by one of the big companies. Now, if all the products worked together, that could be a very good thing for customers!

Thanks for the heads up on Greg's rant -- I'll go check it out.

Cisco's UCS mini

I wacthed a presentation of this product on youtube, it's very interesting!

Re: Cisco's UCS mini

Jerome, was there anything you thought was particularly useful or compelling about the UCS Mini?