The Secret Sauce of Cisco UCS: Architecture

The Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS), when inserted into the data center, actually consolidates many of these separate elements into a single environment.  In the next section, all of the various threads presented thus far blend together into a new architecture with substantial benefits for all aspects of a business enterprise.

Figure 10: Cisco UCS Data Center Topology


Unified Fabric

Comparing the diagram above with the previous data center diagram, you can see several components combined in the UCS environment.  One of the first points of consolidation is the elimination of a separate Fibre Channel network, though the use of Converged Network Adapters (CNAs) that replace the HBA in the server platform.  In addition, the Cisco 6120/40-XP Fabric Interconnects effectively transport Fibre Channel traffic using Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE), eliminating the need for a separate infrastructure.  While the important technical details are beyond the scope of this particular discussion, it does allow for transport over a single network, in a manner similar to voice and data not long ago.

Unified Management (UCS Manager)

Embedded into the 6120/40-XP Fabric Interconnects is the UCS Manager, a web-based management software that allows for all management functions of the physical UCS infrastructure as well interconnection with V-Center (the VMware virtualization management software).  In addition, a separate management network is also eliminated, further consolidating the infrastructure.

Service Profiles (Stateless Computing)

The specific hardware configuration elements of the blades in the server are defined in a construct termed a service profile.  This profile, defines in the UCS Manager GUI, is pushed to the individual blades at run time.  In addition, templates can be created to populate service profiles of differing types.  Various configurations can be changed on the blades, allowing for rapid reconfiguration.

Role-Based Access

Many IT organizations maintain separate personnel management structures, which may include the following:

  • Network: Switches, Routers, and Infrastructure
  • Storage: SAN device administration
  • Server: Deployment of physical servers and associated applications

In many ways the consolidation of disparate network elements simplifies operational matters, but it can have the unfortunate side effect of creating proverbial “turf wars” with no simple solutions.  One of the features built-in to the UCS Manager software is the concept of roles, or role-based access.  In addition, a number of predefined roles already exist that can help manage access to the various aspects of the computing environment.  Some of these include:

  • Administrator (superuser access)
  • Network Administrator (network asset access)
  • Server Administrator (server access)
  • Storage Administrator (storage access)

Additional roles can be defined as needed.

The Cisco UCS is a major step forward in data center development, and creates numerous business and technical benefits.  While complex from a technical standpoint, the system actually helps enterprises to fully realize the potential enhancements.

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