Cisco steps on UCS server gas, launches 'disaggregated' system

Cisco is going scale-out and midmarket with its Unified Computing System lineup in a bid to play multiple enterprise trends and gain market share.

Cisco on Thursday launched plans to broaden its server reach into mid-market companies as well as the scale-out category as well as "disaggregated" systems to make them more efficient.

The moves, which fall under Cisco's Unified Computing System umbrella, highlight how the networking giant has become the No. 4 server vendor and plans on moving up the charts to attack the likes of Dell, HP and Lenovo, which beefed up with IBM's x86 business.

Todd Brannon, director of UCS product management, said Cisco is launching its "biggest tranche of new technology" since the server line first launched. Brannon said UCS is setting itself up for the computing requirements needed for the Internet of things, sensors, smart devices, mobility, big data and the democratization of high performance computing. "We're confident we're becoming the No. 1 systems vendor with UCS," said Brannon.

In the big picture, Cisco is expanding UCS from its core data center workloads to the edge of the network and branch networks as well as scale-out deployments. The move to the edge is based on the theory that remote offices will need more horsepower for mobility and Internet of things data crunching that need to be distributed.

To hit that edge market---mid-sized companies primarily---Cisco launched UCS Mini, a data center in a box that includes the company's systems management software.


That move is a no-brainer since it rounds out Cisco's UCS footprint. Cisco's scale-out plans could be more disruptive. Cisco launched the UCS M-Series Modular Servers, which disaggregate the guts of a server and put them back together in a way that's more efficient. 

Here's the rub: Scale out deployments have largely been the domain of cloud providers such as Amazon, Google and Facebook. Many of those companies have designed their own servers and procured systems from whitebox manufacturers.

Cisco's bet is that more enterprises will deploy scale-out infrastructure. And if they do go scale-out they're going to want a unified system because they won't have hundreds of engineers focused on them. The scale-out units are the fastest growing part of the server pie, but only about 15 percent of the total market.

"Most customers don't have the engineers to deal with a systems management issue with 5 servers. It gets really bad with 10,000," said Brannon. "The M-Series is the first true disaggregated server in the world. We took the traditional system down to its components and reassembled them in a different way."

In a nutshell, here's how Cisco retooled the server to be a hybrid between a virtual and physical system:

  • Subsystems were disaggregated by taking the traditional server's core components and reassembling them.
  • The server's guts resemble a fabric of a network. The CPU and memory are separated from the rest of the system. 
  • The chasses of the system is shared.

Enterprises looking at scale out architecture are financial services firms running simulations, companies focused on predictive analytics and utilities trying to manage smart grids.

HP has taken a similar approach to disaggregating the traditional server motherboard with its Moonshot servers , offering enclosures densely packed with energy-sipping, low-power servers that share access to power, networking and cooling. It is another step towards creating separate rack-level infrastructure pools – of computer, storage and networking - enabled by fast data interconnects such as silicon photonics .

On the product front Cisco launched the following:

  • Cisco UCS M-Series Modular Servers.
  • UCS C3160 Rack Server for distributed data centers. The system has high-capacity local disk storage. 
  • The UCS Mini, an all-in-one that packages servers, storage and networking in a tight box. 
  • UCS B200 M4 Blade Server, C220 M4 and C240 M4 Rack Servers.
  • UCS Director Express for Big Data, which is a platform that manages and automates big data and enterprise applications. The software, developed with SAP and Intel, is one management view for Hadoop as well as SAP HANA.