Cisco Takes Its Shot at Grand Unification for the Datacenter

By John West and Michael Feldman

March 19, 2009

One box to rule them all, and in the network bind them

This week the IT industry exhaled its collectively held breath as Cisco finally announced its Unified Computing Solution (UCS). The announcement itself was pretty thin on any actual, you know, details. Part of this reflects the marketing approach that Cisco is taking with UCS: start at the CIO level, where the air is pretty rarefied, well over the heads of the various server, network and apps managers crouched defensively over their rice bowls. The presumption is that this is an effective way to dislodge its main server competition — stalwarts like IBM, HP and Dell.

Behind the marketing is a mostly enterprise play, but the company is hinting at an HPC angle for UCS. We’ll tell you what we know now, and how this might impact your high performance computing deployment plans.

First of all, what is UCS? Cisco’s Brian Schwartz, an engineer at Cisco’s Server Access Business, described it this way: “UCS is a next generation datacenter architecture that fuses computing, networking, storage access, and virtualization into a single system.” The architecture will be implemented in a product line that Cisco will be rolling out in the weeks and months ahead.

While Schwartz declined to delve into specifics about the makeup of the UCS server hardware (codenamed “California”), a report by Timothy Prickett Morgan at The Register shed some light on the inner workings of the upcoming machines. From what Morgan could glean from Dante Malagrino, director of engineering at Cisco’s server access and virtualization business unit, the physical heart of the system is the UCS 5100 series blade server chassis, a 6U form factor that mounts in a standard rack. The 5100 holds servers (Nehalem-based UCS B Series blades), the UCS 2100 fabric extenders, and the UCS 6100 Series Fabric Interconnect module. All the blades are oriented horizontally, and the server blades come either eight half-width blades or four full-width blades to a chassis. The fabric extenders, up to two per chassis, link the blades to the fabric interconnect.

Schwartz himself describes the UCS 6100 Fabric Interconnect switch as the “heart and brains of the system.” It implements the unified network fabric, and also runs the software that controls, manages, and monitors all the chassis and blade servers. The 6100 hooks the chassis together into a cluster in which each blade runs its own OS, has its own memory, and so on. Two redundant switches can manage 40 blade chassis in a single cluster for a total of 320 servers or about 2500 cores using the upcoming quad-core Nehalem EP chips. The chassis are connected via a lossless 10 Gb Ethernet fabric, and the 6100 supports unified storage access by allowing FCoE and end user Ethernet on the same device.

Virtualization is a big part of this solution, and Cisco has partnerships with VMware and Windows for ESX Server and Hyper-V hypervisors, and runs Windows and at least two flavors of Linux (SUSE and Red Hat). The switch itself is also virtualized, so that as virtual machine images move around the cluster, the network connections aren’t lost. Handy.

The 6100 also hosts the management software for the UCS, Cisco UCS Manager, which is built on the BladeLogic operating system that Cisco has licensed from BMC Software. This approach puts both network and server management into the network itself, and Cisco is very proud of its XML-based API that allows adventurous users and third-party developers to build higher level tools on top of the UCS management layer.

And here is where the company starts to talk about high performance computing. For example, for applications that want to live in really large compute grids — as in thousands of nodes — the XML API will provide the mechanism to manage these super-sized systems as a single entity. According to him, “literally anything you can do in our CLI and GUI, you can do in our XML API, and that’s very attractive to system management companies and people who might do things like job scheduling.” For example, third-party developers like Platform Computing could come in and employ the XML API to build higher levels of abstraction around user workload management and application-tailored deployment.

Schwartz cited an HPC use case in the financial services context where a UCS set-up could be used for front or back office support during the day, and then re-provisioned at night for high end analytics. Chip design companies that currently isolate their Electronic Design Automation (EDA) workloads from their business-side applications is another example where a unified computing model could make a lot of sense. In Cisco’s view, such a model prevents companies from building two siloed infrastructures to support different computational requirements and would allow them to run their infrastructure something like Amazon runs EC2.

Returning to the server hardware, the one feature Cisco did reveal this week that pertains to HPC is the memory expansion technology. The feature will be cooked into the blade motherboards and will provide for significantly more memory capacity per server, making it ideal for virtualization and memory-bound applications. Although Schwartz couldn’t provide any details ahead of the Intel Nehalem EP launch, which is expected at the end of the month, he did say that the technology will be “ideal for large data-intensive workloads,” adding that Cisco has been talking with a number of people under NDA who are very interested in these large memory footprint systems.

The impact of Cisco’s UCS product line in an enterprise or HPC setting remains to be seen. The other system vendors are predictably blasé about the announcement, even if they are privately preparing their own server announcements and grand unification schemes for the datacenter. The release of Intel’s Nehalem EP chip later this month promises to set the server launch machine back into high gear, as OEMs scramble for position. But this time around, Cisco will have a lot more on the line.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industry updates delivered to you every week!

Natcast/NSTC Issues Roadmap to Implement CHIPS and Science Act

May 29, 2024

Yesterday, CHIPS for America and Natcast, the operator of the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC), released a roadmap of early steps for implementing portions of the ambitious $5 billion program. Natcast is t Read more…

Scientists Use GenAI to Uncover New Insights in Materials Science

May 29, 2024

With the help of generative AI, researchers from MIT and the University of Basel in Switzerland have developed a new machine-learning framework that can help uncover new insights about materials science. The findings of Read more…

Microsoft’s ARM-based CPU Cobalt will Support Windows 11 in the Cloud

May 29, 2024

Microsoft's ARM-based CPU, called Cobalt, is now available in the cloud for public consumption. Cobalt is Microsoft's first homegrown CPU, which was first announced six months ago. The cloud-based Cobalt VMs will support Read more…

2024 Winter Classic Finale! Gala Awards Ceremony

May 28, 2024

We wrapped up the competition with our traditional Gala Awards Ceremony. This was an exciting show, given that only 40 points or so separated first place from fifth place after the Google GROMACS Challenge and heading in Read more…

IBM Makes a Push Towards Open-Source Services, Announces New watsonx Updates

May 28, 2024

Today, IBM declared that it is releasing a number of noteworthy changes to its watsonx platform, with the goal of increasing the openness, affordability, and flexibility of the platform’s AI capabilities. Announced Read more…

ISC 2024 Takeaways: Love for Top500, Extending HPC Systems, and Media Bashing

May 23, 2024

The ISC High Performance show is typically about time-to-science, but breakout sessions also focused on Europe's tech sovereignty, server infrastructure, storage, throughput, and new computing technologies. This round Read more…

Scientists Use GenAI to Uncover New Insights in Materials Science

May 29, 2024

With the help of generative AI, researchers from MIT and the University of Basel in Switzerland have developed a new machine-learning framework that can help un Read more…

watsonx

IBM Makes a Push Towards Open-Source Services, Announces New watsonx Updates

May 28, 2024

Today, IBM declared that it is releasing a number of noteworthy changes to its watsonx platform, with the goal of increasing the openness, affordability, and fl Read more…

ISC 2024 Takeaways: Love for Top500, Extending HPC Systems, and Media Bashing

May 23, 2024

The ISC High Performance show is typically about time-to-science, but breakout sessions also focused on Europe's tech sovereignty, server infrastructure, storag Read more…

ISC 2024 — A Few Quantum Gems and Slides from a Packed QC Agenda

May 22, 2024

If you were looking for quantum computing content, ISC 2024 was a good place to be last week — there were around 20 quantum computing related sessions. QC eve Read more…

Atos Outlines Plans to Get Acquired, and a Path Forward

May 21, 2024

Atos – via its subsidiary Eviden – is the second major supercomputer maker outside of HPE, while others have largely dropped out. The lack of integrators and Atos' financial turmoil have the HPC market worried. If Atos goes under, HPE will be the only major option for building large-scale systems. Read more…

Google Announces Sixth-generation AI Chip, a TPU Called Trillium

May 17, 2024

On Tuesday May 14th, Google announced its sixth-generation TPU (tensor processing unit) called Trillium.  The chip, essentially a TPU v6, is the company's l Read more…

Europe’s Race towards Quantum-HPC Integration and Quantum Advantage

May 16, 2024

What an interesting panel, Quantum Advantage — Where are We and What is Needed? While the panelists looked slightly weary — their’s was, after all, one of Read more…

The Future of AI in Science

May 15, 2024

AI is one of the most transformative and valuable scientific tools ever developed. By harnessing vast amounts of data and computational power, AI systems can un Read more…

Synopsys Eats Ansys: Does HPC Get Indigestion?

February 8, 2024

Recently, it was announced that Synopsys is buying HPC tool developer Ansys. Started in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1970 as Swanson Analysis Systems, Inc. (SASI) by John Swanson (and eventually renamed), Ansys serves the CAE (Computer Aided Engineering)/multiphysics engineering simulation market. Read more…

Nvidia H100: Are 550,000 GPUs Enough for This Year?

August 17, 2023

The GPU Squeeze continues to place a premium on Nvidia H100 GPUs. In a recent Financial Times article, Nvidia reports that it expects to ship 550,000 of its lat Read more…

Comparing NVIDIA A100 and NVIDIA L40S: Which GPU is Ideal for AI and Graphics-Intensive Workloads?

October 30, 2023

With long lead times for the NVIDIA H100 and A100 GPUs, many organizations are looking at the new NVIDIA L40S GPU, which it’s a new GPU optimized for AI and g Read more…

Atos Outlines Plans to Get Acquired, and a Path Forward

May 21, 2024

Atos – via its subsidiary Eviden – is the second major supercomputer maker outside of HPE, while others have largely dropped out. The lack of integrators and Atos' financial turmoil have the HPC market worried. If Atos goes under, HPE will be the only major option for building large-scale systems. Read more…

Choosing the Right GPU for LLM Inference and Training

December 11, 2023

Accelerating the training and inference processes of deep learning models is crucial for unleashing their true potential and NVIDIA GPUs have emerged as a game- Read more…

Nvidia’s New Blackwell GPU Can Train AI Models with Trillions of Parameters

March 18, 2024

Nvidia's latest and fastest GPU, codenamed Blackwell, is here and will underpin the company's AI plans this year. The chip offers performance improvements from Read more…

Some Reasons Why Aurora Didn’t Take First Place in the Top500 List

May 15, 2024

The makers of the Aurora supercomputer, which is housed at the Argonne National Laboratory, gave some reasons why the system didn't make the top spot on the Top Read more…

AMD MI3000A

How AMD May Get Across the CUDA Moat

October 5, 2023

When discussing GenAI, the term "GPU" almost always enters the conversation and the topic often moves toward performance and access. Interestingly, the word "GPU" is assumed to mean "Nvidia" products. (As an aside, the popular Nvidia hardware used in GenAI are not technically... Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

The GenAI Datacenter Squeeze Is Here

February 1, 2024

The immediate effect of the GenAI GPU Squeeze was to reduce availability, either direct purchase or cloud access, increase cost, and push demand through the roof. A secondary issue has been developing over the last several years. Even though your organization secured several racks... Read more…

The NASA Black Hole Plunge

May 7, 2024

We have all thought about it. No one has done it, but now, thanks to HPC, we see what it looks like. Hold on to your feet because NASA has released videos of wh Read more…

Shutterstock 1285747942

AMD’s Horsepower-packed MI300X GPU Beats Nvidia’s Upcoming H200

December 7, 2023

AMD and Nvidia are locked in an AI performance battle – much like the gaming GPU performance clash the companies have waged for decades. AMD has claimed it Read more…

Intel Plans Falcon Shores 2 GPU Supercomputing Chip for 2026  

August 8, 2023

Intel is planning to onboard a new version of the Falcon Shores chip in 2026, which is code-named Falcon Shores 2. The new product was announced by CEO Pat Gel Read more…

GenAI Having Major Impact on Data Culture, Survey Says

February 21, 2024

While 2023 was the year of GenAI, the adoption rates for GenAI did not match expectations. Most organizations are continuing to invest in GenAI but are yet to Read more…

Eyes on the Quantum Prize – D-Wave Says its Time is Now

January 30, 2024

Early quantum computing pioneer D-Wave again asserted – that at least for D-Wave – the commercial quantum era has begun. Speaking at its first in-person Ana Read more…

Q&A with Nvidia’s Chief of DGX Systems on the DGX-GB200 Rack-scale System

March 27, 2024

Pictures of Nvidia's new flagship mega-server, the DGX GB200, on the GTC show floor got favorable reactions on social media for the sheer amount of computing po Read more…

How the Chip Industry is Helping a Battery Company

May 8, 2024

Chip companies, once seen as engineering pure plays, are now at the center of geopolitical intrigue. Chip manufacturing firms, especially TSMC and Intel, have b Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire