While I have spent quite a bit of time with the Cisco Unified Computing System, or Cisco UCS, one product I have not taken a good look at is the Cisco UCS S-Series server, the UCS S3260, until now. Depending how you configure the S3260 M5, you can have up to 720 TB of storage in just 4 Rack Units (RUs) to store your digital goodies in. Now, let’s take a closer look at what Cisco UCS S3260 M5 can really do.
Inside the Cisco UCS S3260 M5
While the Cisco UCS S3260 M5 looks slightly different than many of its Cisco UCS B-Series and C-Series counterparts, the same main philosophies hold true. Besides providing a place for the disk drives that provide the massive capacity, the Cisco UCS S-Series chassis also provides homes for up to two compute nodes, as well as power supplies and SIOCs, or System I/O controllers (not to be confused with Storage I/O Control for you vSphere folks who may be reading this). Each compute node requires its own SIOC. The SIOCs include an integrated Cisco VIC, or Virtual Interface Card.
Each S3260 can be custom configured to meet the requirements you have. If you have not yet spent time getting acquainted with Cisco’s Spec Sheets, I highly recommend you do. A Cisco Spec Sheet is your one stop shop for how exactly you can configure a Cisco UCS product. From memory to CPU to connectivity options, this document will spell it out, and let you know what components can be mixed and matched.
Managed or Unmanaged UCS S-Series Servers?
In UCS world, UCS S-Series, along with UCS C-Series have to options for management: Managed or Unmanaged. Let’s start with dissecting what Unmanaged UCS is. With Unmanaged UCS, the sever is managed individually like the rack servers many of us are used to. Cisco’s server management software is called Cisco Integrated Management Controller or just CIMC. CIMC is an intuitive and easy to use piece of software, but as we know managing individual servers can become difficult at scale. Due to this, Cisco created another software package called CIMC Supervisor to act as a central management point for these stand alone rack servers.
The fun starts when we talk about a Managed configuration. A managed UCS configuration means we are using Cisco UCS Manager to manage the servers. This is where many of the true benefits and power of the Cisco Unified Computing System come into play. UCS Manager is easy to use, and serves as the abstraction layer for the Cisco UCS Hardware. In UCS Manager, we create something called a Service Profile, which essentially tells the server hardware what personally it should’ have. For example, for a single server in a DR site we may have multiple service profiles. Service Profile A may be for Microsoft Windows for testing of applications. In this conjugation we may only have two virtual NIC interfaces. On the other hand, Service Profile B may be for a VMware vSphere ESXi host in the case of a DR event, in this case we may have four virtual NIC interfaces. Switching these hardware personalities is as simple as rebooting the server with Cisco UCS Manager.
While Cisco UCS Manager is a powerful tool, it does have some additional requirements, mainly Cisco UCS Fabric Interconnects, or FIs. The FIs are the brains of the UCS Manager operation. This is where Cisco UCS Manager runs, and where each sever to be managed is plugged into. These servers get their network connectivity from the Fabric Interconnects, so the fabric interconnects are also connected to the upstream network.
The best way to understand these concepts if you are not familiar with them is to go ahead and download and use the Cisco UCS Platform Emulator. This allows you to configure a virtual Cisco UCS Manager environment and get familiar with some of the concepts of Cisco UCS Architecture. Be sure to take a look at some of my posts on setting up the UCS Platform Emulator or UCSPE here.
Now, when do you pick choose Unmanaged vs Managed configuration? The big decision maker is often budget and size of the infrastructure. Remember, a Managed configuration requires Cisco UCS Fabric interconnects, so for a branch office, it may not be a practical choice. However, for a larger environment or for a data center the features and management capabilities far outweigh the additional cost and space requiems the Cisco UCS FIs bring.
Practical Use Cases for the Cisco UCS S-Series Server
Practical use cases are simple for the Cisco UCS S-Series Server: anything where you need to store a lot of data! The use case that comes to mind first for me is storing backups for your virtual environment, especially if it is already powered by UCS! It is easy to install a product such as Veeam Backup & Replication on the S3260, then use it as a backup repository. As your data grows, you an also add additional S3260 servers to meet capacity demands.
In addition protecting data, the Cisco UCS S-Series 3260 also serves as an option for artificial intelligence and machine learning platforms, both of which generate massive amounts of data.
For more information on the Cisco UCS S-Series, be sure to take a look at the Cisco website.