It has been just over two years that the Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) was announced and released to the world. I wanted to give my feedback on the progress of the platform and how it is fitting into the Cloud Computing space.
When Cisco announced their Unified Computing Platform a couple of years ago, their thinking was not to just design and get into the server hardware business, Cisco’s goal was to and become the heart of the datacenter itself. This was a big move by Cisco considering, that they had a very good working relationship and partnership with HP at least until the announcement that Cisco was getting into the server business.
They say history tends to repeat itself, I am going to take that statement in another direction and apply that towards technology. Virtualization Technology Practices and Tendencies tend to flip flop over time. That in itself is a pretty general statement but I saw this video on YouTube 16 Core Processor: Upgrade from AMD Opteron 6100 Series to Upcoming “Interlagos”” and this really got me thinking about one of the very first questions presented to the Virtualization Architects when planning and designing a new deployment, for as long as I have been working with virtualization technology. To scale up or scale out, that is the question and philosophy that has flip flopped back and forth as the technology itself has improved and functionality increased.
When I first started in virtualization the processors were only single core and vCenter was not even an option yet to manage and/or control the virtual infrastructure. At the start, any server that was on the HAL would be great to get started and then VMware came out with Symmetric Multiprocessing (SMP) virtual machines, with single or dual virtual CPUs. This was great news and changed the design thought process with the new idea of getting the biggest host server with as many processors and as much memory that you could get and/or afford.
Technology then made an advance with the introduction of multi-core processors and now you could buy smaller boxes that still had the processing power of the bigger hosts but in a much smaller and cheaper package. As the technology changed the idea to scale-out seemed to overtake the idea of scale up, at least until the next advancement happened from VMware and/or the CPU manufacturers creating a see-saw effect back and forth between the two different areas of technology.
The see-saw will go back and forth over the years and if we fast forward to today we have a lot of exciting technologies that have been added to the mix. The introduction of blade servers a few years back was one of those key technology moments that helped redefine the future of server computing. Now, blade technology has taken a another big step with the release Cisco’s Unified Computing System (UCS). UCS has now taken the blade technology and turned it into the first completely stateless computing technology which currently is able to hold more memory than any other blade system and gives you the ability to run two quad-core processors in the half height blades and the four quad-core processors in the full height blade. Intel has invested time and money in the UCS platform and will remain the only processor available in the UCS chassis but as much as things have flip-flopped with the scale-up and scale-out question, the competition between AMD and Intel has been an exciting race with several back and forth’s going on between the two companies. With the video of AMD’s sixteen core processor making its way around the internet it is a safe bet to think that Intel’s equivalent or even better might not be that far behind.
Where do you think we are in the scale-up and scale-out question? In my opinion, I believe the scale-out option is the best way to go. As virtualization has been accepted as the way to move forward in the Data Center and more and more mission critical as well as beefier servers are now virtualized the need for 32 or 64 cores available per host becomes more and more prevalent to have the resources available for the next advancement that comes in play. Also to support the scale-out opinion it is worth considering VMware’s High Availability (HA) when deciding the number of virtual machines per host. In my years of designing systems and given the choice, I would want HA to be able to recover from a host failure in less than five minutes from the time the host goes down and all the virtual machines running on that host have been restarted and fully booted up. When you have too many virtual machines per host the recovery time during a host failure and the boot storm that comes with it tends to be dramatic and extreme.
That is my opinion and thoughts on the scale-up and scale-out question, so now let’s hear your thoughts and ideas to share with the class.
With the announcement of V-Block and Cisco UCS as a major component, is more hypervisor functionality going to end up in hardware? UCS adds some interesting features into the hardware that were traditionally within the purview of the hypervisor. Now it looks like V-Block is the assembly of myriad components that taken as a whole look remarkably like the beginnings of a hardware based hypervisor.
While getting much press, the Virtual Compute Environment coalition provided little in the way of detailed descriptions of the hardware involved. Recently however, VMware has published one reference architecture document for a Vblock 1 and VMware View 4 (VDI) that can be found here.
From a storage perspective this configuration uses:
- EMC CLARiiON CX-4 disk arrays – No news here, but the exact model is detailed as model 480 with up to 471 TB of capacity.
We all remember the fanfare that sounded on the release of the UCS Blade technology, well Cisco have just quietly snuck an announcement out of the door about some rack mounted brothers for the Blades, now these are as usual “more than just a rack mount server” they are the next addition in the “unified compute” space. In fact John Growdon, Director of Worldwide Channels for Cisco stated “This is not ‘Cisco entering the rack mount space’, I think that diminishes what we are doing here. We are in the unified compute space, and this is a different form factor for us.”