Yes Cloud!

Unifying the Data Center/ Cloud Infrastructure

Posted on: March 18, 2009

Building a cloud-centric data center infrastructure demands the following canonical components:
• Connectivity – data networking, storage networking and Layer 4-7 services (e.g. firewalls, load balancers)
• Compute – servers & OS, virtualization software
• Storage – arrays/file shares for structured and unstructured data (CIFS, iSCSI, Fibre Channel based blocked storage, etc.)
• Provisioning – automated, end-user driven provisioning of cloud infrastructure

Multiple data center vendors are positioning themselves to provide one or more of these components. On Monday, Cisco announced its Unified Computing vision, which unifies connectivity and computing disciplines using a holistic architectural approach. It includes a portfolio of products under a new Unified Computing System (UCS) product line. ().

GigaOm provided some details on the announced products. How are these products different that what is available today? Few immediate thoughts:

1. A 4/8-slot, 6-RU blade server chassis (UCS 5100 blade chassis and B-Series blades) that can take up to 8 half-size or up to 4 full-size server blades. Key notables:
• Leverages the latest Intel Xeon processor and Nehalem microarchitecture
• Each blade server utilizes unified I/O network adapter (for Ethernet, FCoE, Data Center Ethernet and FCoE connectivity). Three different network adapters are available, though it is unclear whether their interface is 10G or 1G or something else
• Ability to do memory expansion to up to 384GB (no details available)
• Up to 2 fabric extenders (see below) for external fabric connectivity (in lieu of traditional blade switches)
• No separate management module!

2. Fabric extenders (UCS 2100), aka FEX, which is inserted in the blade server chassis for network connectivity. According to Nexus 2000 and 5000 literature, FEX is a “remote I/O module” that extends internal fabric to external data center/cloud fabric, providing singly-managed entity with common supervisory functions and inheriting unified fabric switch port characteristics. Though this blade FEX as four 10Gb uplinks, it isn’t clear whether the internal blade chassis fabric is 10Gb or 1Gb (like Nexus 2148T) or something else. Of course, the key theme is operational simplicity.

3. Unified fabric switches (UCS 6100) providing 20 or 40 ports of 10GbE connectivity. Key notables here are that these switches natively support unified I/O (consolidation of Ethernet and Fibre Channel) via Data Center Ethernet (DCE) and FCoE, plus they enable port extension to UCS 2100 FEXes – very much like the Nexus 5000 switch family.

4. UCS Manager that manages the unified computing infrastructure, up to 320 discrete servers. One potential configuration could be: 40 blade chassis, each with 8 half-size blade servers (total 320 servers), connected to one or a single HA pod of UCS 6100 fabric switches utilizing one 10G port per switch per chassis. By addressing the operational complexity head on across multiple discrete products, Cisco intends to reduce cost and increase operational agility of data centers and cloud infratructure – key end user care-abouts.

5. Because server virtualization is central to the unified computing vision, the virtual “hypervisor” switch – Nexus 1000v – has be an integral component as well as the ability to expose VMs to blade FEX/fabric switches via VN-link technology. These technologies ensure that consistent network policies can be applied across the VM infrastructure, even during VM migration, and the entire process can be managed centrally. It would be natural to offer this functionality as a pre-configured option for UCS blade servers.

Overall, this is a cool architectural-centric product offering for next generation data center and cloud computing infrastructure, consisting of an end-to-end centrally managed solution. No doubt Cisco has up the ante in the data center. It’ll be interesting to see how other data center vendors respond – via their own product innovations, M&A activities and/or partnership re-alignments.



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  • Kevin Clark: Interesting article. Keep it up.
  • Michael Segal: Prashant, An interesting analogy between the earlier and the most recent cloud models. What became evident to me based on this analogy, is the gro
  • Pete K.: Prashant, You are ever the professor. I see cloud computing as a semi-dumb interface (more than a CRT in a network PC - such as at an airport gat


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