Cisco Doubles Down on UCS

Cisco server platform doubles its virtual network interface capacity as it scales up for the cloud.

At the heart of Cisco's cloud strategy is its Unified Computing System (UCS). At the Cisco Live user conference today, Cisco announced new extensions for the UCS that provide even more density for cloud deployments.

Omar Sultan, solution manager for data center switching in the Data Center Solutions team at Cisco, told that new UCS improvements are on the networking side as opposed to the processor side. Cisco's UCS is powered by Intel chips and were recently updated with the Westmere EX launch in April.

The new networking improvements include new virtual interface cards. The new interface technology allows a single 10 Gigabit Ethernet port to look like up to 256 individual machines to a virtualization hypervisors. Previously, Cisco's virtual NIC only was able to deliver 128 virtual interfaces.

"So you take a single 10 GbE port and present it to look like to 256 virtual PCIe interfaces up to the hypervisor and the OS stack," Sultan said. "Each virtual machine looks like it has its own network interface."

The virtual interface cards are not just simply dividing up available bandwidth. Rather, Sultan noted that the UCS system also intelligently allocates bandwidth.

"What makes this interesting is that if you take a 10 GbE port and provide 256 virtual NICs you're not magically creating bandwidth," Sultan said. "Bandwidth allocation is still managed through policy so we're not taking the 10 GbE port and slicing it up into really tiny interface cards that everyone is sipping bandwidth through."

Sultan explained that the UCS can dynamically prioritize the traffic as needed based on policy. So high-value application can be prioritized to ensure they get the bandwidth they need.

"The fact that we're allocating bandwidth based on some quality of service policies, it allows customers to drive high density on a 10 GbE port," Sultan said.

Cisco is also improving the management capabilities of the system with an updated UCS Manager release. The new management updates provides additional capabilities for handling the increased density that the virtual NICs can provide. Additionally the system has been improved to support the new VMware vSphere 5.0 release which was announced this week by VMware.

The new VMware release is also focused on scalability and now provides users with the ability to allocate up to 1 TB of RAM per virtual machine. Sultan noted that from an architectural point of view, the UCS is ready for the new scale demands of vSphere.

While Cisco is delivering more density and scale, size alone isn't enough to actually enable a cloud strategy.

"More is always nice, but you need to have management and automation, that's what makes the cloud, the cloud," Sultan said. "It's not just about having cool stuff, that would be like having a Ferrari but not having a steering wheel. So what we're trying to do is deliver both sides of the equation."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: Cloud, Cisco, UCS

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