RealTime IT News

Cisco's New Blades a Great Deal for IT?

Cisco Systems caused a major stir with the announcement of its Unified Computing System last month, a blade server based on Intel's new Nehalem quad-core processors.

Today, the firm opened up with far more detail on how the UCS system works, confirming many of the details InternetNews.com reported earlier despite the company's official cone of silence.

Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) acknowledged the blades will sport a pair of Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Xeon 5560 processors with a special processor that greatly increases the amount of memory per blade.

The custom chip will make four memory sticks appear as one to the system, allowing for a tripling of memory. Each blade will come with 48 memory slots total for a maximum of 384GB of memory, if customers choose to use the very expensive 8GB memory sticks.

The chassis for the blade sits on Cisco's Unified Fabric, reducing the need for switches and management software. A lot of blade servers use a management console for each blade, and then the chassis at large. Cisco's management is done through the fabric interconnect, making up to 320 blades appear as one domain.

In addition, Cisco is introducing Service Profile, which encapsulate all of the identity of a blade; its MAC address, worldwide name, firmware, storage and network policies, boot order, and other identifiers. This profile, in whole or in parts, can be moved to new blades or copied for rapid blade deployment.

"If I have to rapidly scale up an application, I can duplicate that blade profile, put it on new blades and provision them to meet my app's demands, or we can also replace a blade real quick," Paul Durzan, director of marketing for the Server Access and Virtualization group at Cisco, told InternetNews.com. He said redeploying a blade can take three to five days without Service Profiles.

The virtualization adapter in UCS improves performance by letting the blade talk straight to the I/O system instead of going through the hypervisor. Normally this would be a recipe for disaster, letting several virtual machines all try to access the same I/O ports, but Durzan said the hypervisor is still in charge.

"It's just hardware management of traffic instead of software," he said. "The hypervisor is still the traffic cop but it lets you go through the intersection without having to stop for the light."

Cisco said it's working closest with VMware, but is also working with other vendors, including Microsoft and Citrix.

Next page: Buy more, spend less