Sunday, September 14, 2014

UCS M-Series: The Server, Deconstructed

Last week, I attended the Cisco #UCSGrandSlam product launch in NYC as a member of the Tech Field Day delegation. I'm sure you followed the excitement on social media; the @CiscoDC team really knows how to promote their events! And you've likely read some great blog posts from some of the other delegates, including Chris Wahl and Jason Edelman.

To sum up the event, Cisco unveiled two new breeds of server hardware: the M-Series and the C-Series. The C-series server is a beast of a rack-mounted server with enough drive bays that you'd be forgiven for calling it a drive tray. And the M-series represents, in Cisco's terms, the "dis-aggregated server." While the products were certainly provocative and riddled with innovation, I left the press event with one question: what is a server?

For some reason, the first thing that popped into my head during the press event was the Scion xB. Well, not just the Scion xB, but this dead-on review of the auto from Specifically, the article correctly correlates the existence of the xB with the "[complete] deconstruction of the SUV." Briefly, the Scion xB has most of the attributes that those bulky boat-show SUVs have, but the sum of the parts is somehow not an SUV.

That's what the M-series is to me. It's the complete deconstruction of a server. Servers are no longer autonomous sheet metal monsters that have static and rigid identities. You can no longer walk into any modern data center and point to your server. It could be anywhere, including... not in your data center. So the M-series takes this notion to heart with its decoupling of CPU and memory from drive controllers and vNICs & vHBAs. Take a look at this thing with the cover off. You'll marvel at it and wonder what the hell is going on here. Where are the VICs? (Hint: there's only one, and it's a monster.) What are those four SSDs? (Hint: they're presented to the nodes as local storage.) How the hell am I going to manage this thing? (Hint: UCSM.)

Sorry I'm late getting this post out. But I was sidetracked when the latest TechReckoning arrived in my Inbox this week, and it was coincidentally titled "Not Your Grandmas x86 Box." Sidetracked, because that's pretty much what I wanted to say, too. Maybe Troyer is  right; maybe the term "server" is dead. Cisco calls them "nodes" and "cartridges" now. We've colloquially referred to them as boxes for years. Maybe it's time to put the "server" out to pasture.