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Cisco’s Virtual NICs Boosts its Unified Computing

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The promise of Cisco’s unified computing system (UCS) is its ability to tie servers, LANs and SANs together by way of virtualization.

But while the system provides a degree of network consolidation, it also has the ability to generate more virtual server traffic than traditional network interfaces are typically designed to handle.

To that end, Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) is now adding a Virtual Interface Card to its UCS system, a feature that enables the network interface to scale up and be more flexible to the increased virtual machine traffic.

Along with the Virtual Interface Card technology, Cisco today also announced the availability of its new UCS C series of rack mounted servers. The Virtual Interface Cards for the UCS B series of blade servers are slated to roll out in December, with the C series set to debut in 2010.

Paul Durzan, Cisco’s director of hardware platform marketing, explained that with a typical two-port 10 gigabit NIC (network interface card), the host OS will see two 10 gigabit NICs that a network administrator can provision.

“What we’re doing with the virtual interface card is we can show up to 128 vNICs (virtual NICs) to the host OS,” Durzan told

He added that users can set up the Virtual Interface Card in whatever combination of NICs for LAN and NAS (define) access and HBA (define) for fiber-channel access they choose.

“So it allows you to do several things — you can consolidate multiple cards to one card,” Durzan said. “Because it is definable and we are abstracting the personality of the card out, now you can have one card running NAS [and] fiber channel in any combination. It’s a very powerful and flexible environment.”

The underlying virtual machines on the UCS server can also be attached to specific vNICs to further ensure policy compliance and virtual machine migrations.

The UCS C Rack

Cisco’s UCS system debuted in March of this year with the B series of blade servers. In June, the company announced its intentions to roll out a rack-mounted UCS C series that would include three different hardware SKUs.

Today Cisco announced further technical details on the C series, as well as pricing and product availability.

The UCS C 200M1 is a 1U (define) model with 12 dual inline memory modules (DIMM), providing up to 96 GB of memory, and the space for four SAS/SATA drives with two PCIe adaptors.

The UCS C 210M1 is a 2U device also supporting up to 96 GB, but with more disk and PCIe space. The 210m1 can handle up to 16 drives and has five PCIe adaptor slots. Both the UCS C200M1 and the UCS 210M1 are set to roll out in November.

The third device in the C series is the 250M1 and is not set for availability until December. The 250M1 supports 48 DIMMs and up to 384 GB of memory, eight drives and five PCIe adaptors.

Durzan said that in his view, the DIMM density on the 250M1 is an interesting item to note since, given that typical 2U rack servers only have 18 DIMMs. As is the case with the B series of blade servers, the C series is using industry standard components, though there is at least one item that is specific to Cisco.

“Everything is pretty much industry standard but we do have Cisco ASICs on the motherboard that allow extended memory technology,” Durzan said.

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