Cisco UCS Manager 2.1 Highlights

Over the weekend, Cisco released UCS Manager 2.1 to customers. UCS Manager (UCSM) is the single management point for Cisco’s Unified Compute System. A single instance of UCSM can manage up to 20 blade enclosures (that’s 160 servers). The 2.1 release gives improved scalability and a number of new features. Here are some highlights.

Service Profile Renaming

Yes, finally, you can rename service profiles. No more struggling to name your profiles perfectly the first time. When a profile is renamed, all the unique attributes including the MACs, WWNs, UUID, etc, are preserved. This can be done when the server is live and online without any impact.

VM-FEX for Microsoft Hyper-V and KVM

In addition to vSphere, VM-FEX (which I’ve written about here) is now available when using the Hyper-V or KVM hypervisors on UCS. On the Microsoft side, VM-FEX is only compatible with Hyper-V running on Windows Server 2012 (and newer). UCS is able to leverage Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV, which I’ve written about here) in each hypervisor to speed up network performance and ensure separation of multiple tenants/workloads at the hardware NIC level.

Firmware Auto Install

UCSM 2.1 has a built-in wizard that eases the UCS firmware upgrade process. UCSM has the smarts now to properly sequence the upgrade of firmware on the blades, fabric interconnects and I/O modules all in the proper order and with the aim of achieving the least amount of disruption to the UCS domain.

PCIe Flash Storage

This one is pretty cool: support for PCIe based flash storage cards on UCS blade servers. These cards provide local storage that has incredible performance characteristics. The cards will attach in the mezzanine slot of the B-series blades. I haven’t seen any of the hardware announced yet, so I will refrain from going into details, but keep your eyes and ears open for the hardware launch.

Fibre Channel Zoning

UCS Fibre Channel Zoning

This could be a big one for smaller environments. The Fabric Interconnects (FIs) are now able to do native Fibre Channel (FC) zoning. Prior to 2.1, if the UCS domain needed to be connected to FC storage, the FIs had to be plugged into an upstream FC switch such as a Cisco MDS or Nexus 5000/5500. The FI then inherited the zoning information from upstream. With native zoning support, all the zoning configuration can now be done right on the FI. The upside here is that the FI can be plugged directly into FC storage. So in a smaller environment, there’s no longer a need to build a Fibre Channel SAN in order to connect UCS to FC storage.

Multi-hop Fibre Channel over Ethernet

This is a feature I’ve had my eye on for a few months now. In prior releases, north-bound connectivity to the Fibre Channel SAN had to be done on native FC ports. Now, that connectivity can be done on Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) ports. This is great in a scenario where you’re treating your UCS FIs as access layer switches uplinked to Nexus 7000 at the aggregation layer. The FCoE frames can now come off the blades, through the FIs, through the Nexus 7000 and on towards the SAN/storage. This will allow for simpler network designs and further enable the convergence of the storage and data networks. Just a side note: the FIs don’t have to uplink to a Nexus 7000: they could also connect to a Nexus 5000/5500 or an MDS SAN switch.

Single Wire Management of C-Series

UCS C-Series Single Wire Mgmt

The C-series is the rack-mount version of a UCS server. Connectivity for the C-series has gone through 3 revisions now. The first required the management ports be connected to a Nexus 2200 series Fabric Extender (FEX) while the data ports were connected directly to the FIs. The second required both management and data be connected to a Nexus 2232PP FEX. In case you aren’t keeping count, revision 1 and 2 required 4 switch ports per rackmount server. It’s still less than other servers thanks to the virtualization capabilities of the Virtual Interface Card (VIC) but we can do better. In UCSM 2.1 we have the 3rd revision: collapsing the management and data onto a single cable. Now a C-series can be connected with just 2 cables into the 2232PP (which is managed in UCSM, by the way) effectively doubling the number of C-series that can be connected to the same pair of 2232PPs and finally providing the simplest, cleanest method for connecting C-series into a UCS domain.

UCS Central – Manager of Managers

Last, but not least, UCSM 2.1 paves the way for a new product named UCS Central. UCS Central sits above UCS Manager and is capable of managing multiple UCS domains, each of which have their own instance of UCS Manager. UCS Central allows data center administrators to centrally manage beyond the 160 server ceiling of UCS Manager.

References

There we go, some of the highlights of the 2.1 release. For more info, check out these links:

Disclaimer: The opinions and information expressed in this blog article are my own and not necessarily those of Cisco Systems.

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