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CiscoLive 2010: Day Two

The second day started with my favorite session so far and I did not expect it. I am not a programmer but I thought the UCS XML API session was great. I have heard a few times that all functionality to manage UCS via the UCS Manager, the XML API or the CLI is full featured but never dug deeper. Catherine Liao gave us 15 minute primer on XML, XML Schema, etc. to get us started. Then we got into a few ways you can code to the XML API and see API response and error handing. What brought out the geek in me was talking about different use cases. Here are the notes from that section:

1. Display System: You could use this type of example to generate a report of service profiles, etc. and you could include firmware version.

2. Mobile System Monitor, they have a beta iPhone app that uses the API. Took him about 80 hours to develop it. Check it out at http://www.timeline.com/simu

3. Auto provisioning of systems like what Cisco IT is using to deploy workloads.

The other highlight of the day was the keynote with John Chambers. I always like to hear him speak, he knows how to communicate his ideas very well to a crowd. The big WOW from the session was the announcement of the new Cisco Cius “See-Us” tablet device. The first reaction is that it is a competitor to the iPad but it really is focused as a collaboration tool using unified communication (with “Video as the new Voice”) being a key piece of it. Plus it is focused as a business, education or communication device. Afterward when everyone was leaving the event I noticed John Chambers still hanging out and talking with people. So I headed down and had a few minutes to chat with him and get a picture.

It was a pretty cool day that ended on the patio at the top of Mandalay Bay looking out on the strip listening to great live music from Phat Strad. Thanks to the Cisco datacenter group for organizing this fun event.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | General | , | Leave a comment

CiscoLive 2010: Day One

I am a little late on my day one blog but here it is . . . The focus of my first day was around the core network in the datacenter. We have Cisco UCS so I attended a few sessions on FCoE and the Nexus 7000 hardware.

FCoE covered basic concepts for the first half and then they dug into the details of how FCoE is really FC but contained in an Ethernet packet. So it was a good refresher on FC concepts and how things map under FCoE. We also got an understanding of how the FCoE protocol has been built to provide the lossless nature needed to support fiber channel traffic by using flow control. During this session I wanted to login to one of my FC Cisco MDS switch to check out some show information as we covered them in the session. Since I am only using my iPad this week I used the Citrix Receiver app to remote to my desktop. It worked very well, pretty cool.

For the Nexus 7000 hardware session I now know the basics of how it is structured. Since my experience is with the 6500 what stood out for me was the fabric for the switch is not on the supervisor but on it’s own fabric modules that go in the back of the chassis. This allows for up to 5 fabric modules and up to 230 Gbps of bandwidth. Based on your needs you can start small (3 is the base recommendation for redundancy and adequate capacity) and add to it over time. Today Cisco announced a new module line called the F Series that will allow you to add IO modules that will be able to start to reach that 230 gbps of bandwidth. Another interesting thing from today is next year there will be a 9 slot Nexus 7000 as well as new fabric modules that will get the bandwidth up to 560 gbps (I am going on memory for that number).

I shifted gears in the afternoon and attended an IT Management session from Cisco’s Paul McNab focused on IT Aligning to Business Strategy. This was pretty cool discussion that gave insight into how Cisco has approached disrupters as opportunities and how using collaboration to increase speed to respond and broaden your scope. An example that stood out for me was that the value of the technology we purchase today may only have 18 months of life, this means IT needs to get value out of that investment very fast or you will loss your competitive footing. By using new tools and technologies such as collaboration tools, unified computing, etc. to maximize your time and resources are ways IT can bring value to the business. This session is one I would not have expected to see at a tech conference, however, it fits well into my interests.

Finished out the day with the show floor, World of Solutions. It has been a few years since attending a Cisco conference and it reminded me how diverse Cisco is. You see cabling, storage, data center, server components and voice vendors all in one room. We had a great first day and look forward to the rest of the week.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | General | , , , | Leave a comment

Cisco Live 2010 . . .

I am on a plane headed to Las Vegas for this year’s Cisco Live conference. It has been a few years since I last attended Cisco Networkers back before it evolved and expanded just like Cisco and the rest of IT has changed. Back then I was interested in wireless, network security and just getting an understanding of storage area networks and the MDS line of gear.

Today I continue to have a heavy focus on the importance of the datacenter but there is a diverse and wide variety of technologies that all have to come together for a health system to deliver exceptional patient care.

It is time again for our organization to refresh our wireless to support greater bandwidth by using 802.11n, provide for a substantial increase in the number of wireless devices and simplify the management of it.

How we look at our LAN moving forward will need to expand the support of Quality of Service (QoS) to handle more video and voice. How it will all come together will be key as we move forward. Just like we are building in high availability and redundancy in the datacenter we have to focus similar attention on the network. This is the northbound traffic heading out of the datacenter to all of the end node devices no matter what, where and how they are connected. All of this done in a secure manner, of course.

Back in the datacenter, key technologies that are interesting to me are the new things coming in the Nexus product line and how it will tie in with UCS. So as we are expanding and scaling out our compute capacity on UCS what is going to be the most efficient and cost effective way to deliver this high level of service.

I am looking forward to this week and it should be a good time as well. I always like to hear John Chamber’s keynote, I wonder what his focus will be this year. Cloud Computing?

June 27, 2010 Posted by | General | | Leave a comment

What is Cisco Support Like for UCS?

A common question I get when talking with others about our Cisco UCS production environment is if we have had any issues that required us to deal with Cisco TAC. Like with anything we have had a few things that required a call. By the way, the phone number is the same for any Cisco product. Here are a few examples for you.

One of our first calls had to do with a failed 8 GB DIMM in one B200 M1 server blade. We noticed a warning light on the blade and went to the UCS Manager to investigate. We were able to quickly drill down to the effected blade’s inventory and go to the memory tab. This screen provided the details of the failed DIMM’s slot location and confirmed it’s failed status. Since the workload running on this blade was VMware ESX we put it into maintenance mode, powered down the blade and replaced the DIMM with a spare. It was time to open a ticket with TAC.

The TAC engineer took down our information and sent out a replacement DIMM within 4 hours and we were done with the ticket. I asked our server person what he thought of dealing with TAC and he did not expect it to be that easy. Typically in the past with other server vendors we would have had to run a diagnostic tool to determine which DIMM and then open a trouble ticket. We would have to down the server, re-seat the DIMM, and wait for it to fail again. Once it failed again then we would get a replacement. So this call process with Cisco seemed to be smoother.

Another trouble ticket was related to a VMware ESX host that, post a reboot, would not see the boot partition. After some troubleshooting, it clearly was a ESX OS issue and our VMware admin was ready to re-image the server. However, we thought this would be a good test for Cisco TAC so we opened a ticket. We were surprised when TAC gave the case to an ESX server person at Cisco who within 20 minutes had resolved the issue and the server was back in production. So our expectations were exceeded again.

The one trouble ticket that took sometime was when we wanted to install Windows 2003 standard 64 bit bare metal on a blade with the Emulex interface card. This is easy to do with Windows 2008, however the challenge was getting the right drivers on a media type that the Windows 2003 installation process could recognize. It wanted to see the drivers on a either a CD or floppy disk which you provided by emulating the media. I personally did not work this ticket but it took time over 3 days to get everything completed. In the end we now have a process down and 2 servers in production.

Overall, Cisco has exceeded our expectations when it comes to dealing with trouble tickets around the UCS products successfully. It has been clear to us that Cisco has put the resources into support and have the right folks in place to deal with a variety of potential issues customers may run into.

June 25, 2010 Posted by | Cisco UCS, General | , | Leave a comment

Victims of Consolidation

We have been spending some time cleaning up in the datacenter pulling out all of the old server hardware that is left over from migrations to a virtual environment.  In this most recent round of cleanup, there are over 60 old physical servers in these stacks which provided a lot of compute cycles for us in the past.  Their time has come to an end.  And to think those 60 workloads can easily run on 2 Cisco UCS B200-M1 blade now with VMware ESX 4.x and EMC PowerPath/VE! 

June 10, 2010 Posted by | General, VMWare | Leave a comment

Cisco Developer Network for Unified Computing

Back in April 2010 Cisco added Unified Computing to the Cisco Developer Network.  The idea of the network is to provide resources, forum and blog areas focused on development with the UCS Manager open XML API.  While I was in San Jose I spoke to a new Cisco person who is going to be focused on expanding this area and content.  So today I finally took some time to check it out . . .

You can tell it is new and the content is just starting but there is the beginning of some cool stuff. Currently it is organized under Unified Computing — UCS Manager. 

You will find sample code in the blog and resource sessions.  The meat of the resources are developer guides, some white papers and many tools and samples of PowerShell, Scripts and XML Samples.  I found the Getting Started session to be my favorite area.  This section gives you a direction to start digging into the XML API and how to approach coding in it.  Make sure to check out the video on this page that gives a good overview intro to the XML API.

You will also find information on the UCS Platform Emulator which can be used for testing and developing against.  You can request access to the emulator tool from this page.  The next item listed on the page is information about an actual UCS Sandbox that is available to developers hosted at a cloud provider.  For those folks ready to start writing some code for the API, there are the tools available to have at it.

My shop tends not to do too much in-house development but occasionally we will write some Perl or other scripts to automate tasks against AD or for ESX/VMware tasks.  I am starting to see a few areas in UCS that we might gain some benefits from a few scripts.  For example, when we perform updates to the firmware/bios there are about 3 or 4 steps you perform for each service profile.  These steps could be coded and managed to perform the tasks more timely and consistent.  As our UCS installation grows there may be more opportunities for other tasks/functions.

Now if you take a broader look at what this Developer Network will mean for the growth and management of Cisco UCS you can easily image how the Altiris, Tivoli, EMC Ionix, etc. of the world could eat this stuff up.  You can tell Cisco had vision early on to make this system open so it can fit well into most existing enterprise management frameworks either directly from the vendors or in-house development.

So check it out if you get a chance and come back occasionally to see how it evolves over time.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Cisco UCS | Leave a comment

Cisco Unified Computing Advisory Board (UCAB)

Just finished attending the Cisco Unified Computing Advisory Board (UCAB) in San Jose this week.  Great experience to have the opportunity to interact with other production UCS customers from various lines of business, the leadership of the Server Access and Virtualization Business Unit (SAVBU) and many other key Cisco staff focused on the success of the Unified Computing platform.  I am not able to go into many details or specifics on meeting content, however I will try and give you a sense of the what and why for the advisory board.

 We spend two solid days focused on customer feedback on our experiences; successes, challenges and what can be improved as well as getting feedback on product growth and future directions.  The key take away from this focus of the event was Cisco’s strong commitment to understanding the real world implementations and the desire to continually improve the unified computing experience and product.

 As you can imagine there was also a large focus on educating us on the short-term growth and roadmaps as well as discussions on longer-term thoughts, designs, etc.  Again this was framed around taking customer feedback to help shape things moving forward.  On this front, I quickly realized Cisco is not standing still and has an amazing vision for what “unified computing” will mean in the future.  The narrow thought of “Cisco is in the server business” quickly became clear that the server is merely a component of Cisco driving the unified computing business.  I think it is clear from the reaction and responses seens so far from other server vendors that there is a realization the future of compute is not just about a server.  That is why you see others scrambling to have their own “unified compute” platform by quickly cobbling existing technologies together and branding some form of unified computing.  The overall benefit of this competition is that all compute vendors will get better and continue the push and move in this direction.

 There is no question in my mind that Cisco is in this market as a leader and will be there long term.  I think a lot of organizations are beginning to understanding this fact and “get” the benefits and cost savings that UCS brings to the table. 

 What is also interesting to me is the timing of when Cisco executed the launch and growth of UCS, during the economic turmoil of 2009.  If you think about it, you could not have picked a more challenging economic time to introduce a paradigm shift in computing.  The up side to the timing is the cost benefits of UCS stood out for us early adopters.  Cisco is continuing to expand their investments in staff, functionality and advancements in technology, which is only strengthening the product.

 Cool stuff!  Look for the next UCS code release 1.3 to happen very soon in June 2010 and an updated ESX 4.x driver for the VIC (Palo card) that works with EMC PowerPath/VE as well.

June 7, 2010 Posted by | Cisco UCS | , | Leave a comment