Nov 04 2012

UCS Central preview – A larger scale view

When UCS was launched in June 2009, it raised the bar with the integrated management called UCS Manager. A single build-in management interface to configure every single aspect of the UCS system as well as providing an open XML interface.

Before we move forward, we need to get a few definitions straight:

  • UCS Domain: A single UCS system, including a redundant pair of Fabric Interconnects and up to 160 servers.
  • UCS Manager: The management interface of a single UCS Domain, running inside the Fabric Interconnects

UCS Manager is where administrators configure pools, policies and templates that give UCS its tremendous flexibility. But what if you own multiple UCS Domains and you wish to keep your pools, policies and templates consistent? Across multiple UCS Domains and across multiple geographical sites or continents. That functionality requires you to rely on external tools that leverage the XML API.

Welcome UCS Central

On November 1nd, Cisco lifted the curtain on what was called project “Pasadena” in a blog that included a 30 minute video that is worth watching. UCS Central is a tool to manage multiple UCS Domains. What does ‘multiple’ mean you might ask, because when UCS was released in 2009 it supported 5 chassis (40 blades) which over time grew to the current number of 20 chassis (160 servers – blade and/or rack). Well, according to the demonstrations given at VMworld Barcelona, the phase 1 release will support 10.000 servers.

Now that is a big number – 10.000 servers in phase 1 should be more then enough for any one of you out there reading this blog. If not, I would love to hear from you 🙂

Before I get into some of the details, lets start with Krish Sivakumar (Product Manager) and Roger Anderson (Technical Marketing Engineer) explaining UCS Central in this 5 minute video.

The architecture

UCS Central is not a standalone application that simply uses the XML API of UCS Manager to speak to it. That would have been the easy way out. Instead it is build from the ground up fully integrated with UCS Manager, leveraging the same Data Management Engine (DME) that runs inside UCS Manager.

UCS Manager uses the concept of setting a policy centrally, but making the end-points responsible for the execution of that policy. For example the policy can be that blades need to run a new version of BIOS. The Fabric Interconnect doesn’t push that down, instead the blades receive a message that a new policy is available, and they individually reach out and collect the new policy (and execute it).

UCS Central extends that mode, a policy will be set centrally and it will send out a message on the message bus. All subscribed UCS Managers receive that message of a new available policy. The individual UCS Managers will contact UCS Central and grab the new policy and execute upon it (which in some cases will mean they will in turn send out a message to components that live inside it’s UCS domain.
This architecture scales very well and provides the additional benefit that no functionality is taken away from the local UCS Manager. The functionality of UCS Central is simply added.

How do you set this up
It all starts at the UCS Manager level, the admin needs to register the UCS Manager with UCS Central. Simply add the IP address (DNS name) and the shared-secret. That will register UCS Manager. By default all of the policies remain in the so called local mode. Even if UCS Manager is registered to a UCS Central, the local administration remains fully in control as to which functionality will be delegated to UCS Central.

So what happens after registration
UCS Central will collect all of the configuration of the UCS Manager so that the full inventory is now available centrally. All of the used unique identifiers (MAC, WWPN, WWNN, UUID) are now also knows, as well as all of the service profiles that are created.

In phase one all of the policies are related to the UCS domain itself. Like Date & Timezone, NTP and DNS servers, SNMP credentials, AAA authentication settings etc… These can all be defined in UCS Central and UCS Manager will collect and execute against these policies and configure itself accordingly. This ensures consistency and compliancy across all UCS domains for all of the standard systems settings.

Phase 1 also allows you to create pools for the unique identifiers within UCS Central. Up to now these were always configured at the UCS Domain level and had only local significance. UCS Central adds global awareness – but keeps the flexibility that local pools can still be configured (and it will be fully aware of all of the local pools and which identifiers are used from these local pools).
UUID, MAC addresses, Fiber Channel WWPN/WWNN can all be configured centrally. And at the UCS Manager level these central pools can now be selected as one extra choice.

Firmware management is centralized
UCS Central can be configured to check with Cisco.com for new versions of software. It will collect a small XML file containing the latest releases, but it will not automatically download the actual files (those can be rather big). When policies are created or changed and the new setting references a version that is not downloaded, UCS Central will download it from Cisco.com.
And as described earlier, if the policy applies to individual UCS Managers, they will get the message that they need to download a copy of that software from UCS Central and store it in the Fabric Interconnect. Very scalable and very practical.

What to expect next?
Phase 1 is a very exciting release and every customer should be looking at adding UCS Central to their UCS installation. The functionality provided in phase 1 is more then enough to get started and for you to decide how to structure the UCS Central implementation. Phase 2 was not demonstrated at VMworld, but it was mentioned that it will follow phase 1 very rapidly and add the functionality to create Service Profiles centrally.

O, you might ask what all of this good stuff is going to cost you… Although pricing was not finalized, during VMworld the message was that licensing was going to be UCS Domain based, not server based. And the the first 5 UCS domains were going to be free. With a single UCS Domain scaling to 160 servers, that means up to 800 servers (5 * 160) managed via UCS Central for free.

I’ve had the opportunity to play with UCS Central for a little while now and I for one am looking forward to the release date and getting UCS Central into your hands. Let me know what you think and expect of UCS Central.