Cisco’s UCS Mini Enters The Midrange Arena
September 29, 2014 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Over the past five years, some remarkable changes have happened in the systems business. IBM‘s Power Systems business has dropped from around $5 billion down to around $3 billion and Cisco Systems has built a converged system business that has gone from zero to $3 billion. Cisco has gotten more than its fair share of the blade server market with green-field applications like private clouds and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), and now it is looking both low and high to expand its business further.
The fact that Cisco is trying to move from enterprise-class blade servers to minimalist machines aimed at hyperscale datacenter operators does not matter much to IBM i shops, except inasmuch as they might buy cloudy Windows or Linux instances or software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings that might happen to be based on such iron. If you are curious about what X86 machines Cisco has launched for hyperscale customers, I did an in-depth story on them over at my other job at EnterpriseTech, which has all the feeds, speeds, and dollars. Suffice it to say, the Unified Computing System (UCS) M-Series modular servers have some clever engineering, and a companion super-dense storage server that can put 60 disks in a 4U rack enclosure for a maximum capacity of 360 TB is no slouch, either.
What concerns IBM i customers, and perhaps moreso the resellers who sell Power Systems and Flex Systems who will now have Cisco as a competitor, is the UCS Mini machine that Cisco has also announced recently. The UCS Mini does a couple of things to make the existing UCS blade server enclosure (which takes up 6U of space in a rack) suitable for remote office, small office, and back office uses where midrange machines have been popular for decades.
First, the UCS chassis is equipped with 110 volt power suitable for Asian markets and 120 volt power suitable for North American markets. Then, Cisco is swapping out the UCS 6248 fabric interconnects, which allows up to 160 nodes to be linked to the same integrated Ethernet switching in the UCS chassis, with the UCS 6324 fabric interconnect. The UCS 6248 fabric interconnect allows for four double-width or eight single-width B-Series blades to be linked to each other and the integrated switch over virtualized network interfaces. Each blade can have up to an aggregate of 80 Gb/sec of bandwidth allocated to it. The UCS Mini will also allow for up to C-Series rack servers to be hooked to the chassis over the integrated switching. At the moment, the UCS Mini only supports B200 M3 single-wide blades, with other blades based on the just-announced “Haswell” Xeon E5-2600 v3 processors from Intel on the drawing board.
Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for Cisco’s Unified Computing System line, tells The Four Hundred that in the spring of 2015 Cisco will be able to daisy chain two UCS Mini enclosures together with some C-Series racks to expand to a total of 23 nodes. (That’s 16 in the two enclosures plus the seven rack machines.) This is arguably more than enough compute capacity for most small and midrange customers.
The economic arguments that Cisco is making for the UCS Mini will sound familiar to OS/400 and IBM i shops, who have heard similar sales pitches over the years for both Power-based BladeCenter blade servers and Power-based Flex System machines. Brannon says that compared to similar rack configurations that midrange shops might acquire, the UCS Mini will have 80 percent fewer cables, use 34 percent lower power, cost 29 percent less in terms of initial capital expenses, and will offer a 36 percent total-cost-of-ownership advantage.
The base UCS Mini machine comes with the chassis, four platinum-level 2,500 watt power supplies, and two UCS 6324 fabric interconnects. The system comes with two B200 M3 single-wide nodes, and Cisco has some pretty modest compute in these nodes with each one having two of Intel’s four-core Xeon E5-2609 v2 processors, which cycle at 2.5 GHz and has 10 MB of L3 cache. These “Ivy Bridge” E5-2600 v2 processors top out at 12 cores, and the new Haswell Xeon E5-2600 v3 processors can go up to 18 cores. Cisco is putting 64 GB of main memory on each of the two nodes. The UCS Mini includes licenses to Cisco’s UCS Manager in-chassis manager as well as the UCS Central uber-manager that spans multiple enclosures and racks. Add it all up, and the whole shebang lists for $19,391, not including operating systems or hypervisors, under a deal that Cisco calls the UCS Mini Entry SmartPlay Special Offer. The Value Plus SmartPlay configuration boosts the memory to 128 GB on four nodes, which are equipped with E5-2660 v2 processors that have 10 cores, 25 MB of L3 cache, and 2.2 GHz clock speeds. This setup costs $48,547.
It would be interesting to see how the Dell VRTX and Cisco UCS Mini machines stack up against Flex Systems using Power8 processors and running IBM i, and I will therefore get to work trying to figure that out for you. Stay tuned.