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Cisco brings server virtualization to the branch office

Joel Snyder | Feb. 26, 2013
E140D, a mid-range blade, is a speedy, well-designed, easy to manage and good performing server

The Cisco UCS Express family is a new set of blades that add high-performance general-purpose Intel server capabilities to the ISR G2 series of routers.

We tested the E140D, a mid-range blade, and found it to be a speedy, well-designed, easy to manage and good performing server all stuffed inside of our existing Cisco 3945 ISR G2 branch office router.

Network managers who need general-purpose computing capability will find the UCS Express to be a convenient and tightly integrated device for branch office deployments.

However, server managers will have to be convinced to abandon their stand-alone servers, as the UCS Express comes at a relatively high cost and doesn't offer the expandability or configuration flexibility of traditional offerings.

Introducing UCS Express

Cisco has a long history of putting general-purpose computers inside its routers. Initially, these add-in blades were devoted to specific tasks, such as running Cisco Call Manager software. The precursors to the UCS Express blades were SRE (Service Ready Engine) blades, running specific qualified applications developed by Cisco and other third-party vendors.

With UCS Express, Cisco has thrown the doors wide open: You can run anything you want on it, including Windows, Linux, VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer.

Cisco currently offers three UCS Express blades, a single-wide and two double-wide versions.

The Cisco UCS Express 140S (S for "single") has a four-core Intel CPU and is a single-wide blade, meaning that it takes a normal-size service module slot in an ISR G2 router that's half as wide as the router. You get one single-wide slot in the Cisco 2911, a double-wide slot in the 2921, 2951 and 3925, and two double-wide slots in the 3945. Because the 140S is only about 7 inches wide, it has a more restricted configuration of hard drives (maximum of two 2.5-inch drives) and memory (maximum of two DIMMs, 16GB) than the double-wide versions.

The other two models are both double-wide blades. The Cisco UCS Express 140D (we tested a beta version of the 140D) and 160D are four-core and six-core double-wide blades. With a little more real estate, these come with three DIMM slots (up to 48GB of memory) and three 2.5-inch drive bays. If you want to put more than one of these in a chassis for some reason, there's a complicated set of rules about how many UCS Express servers will fit in ISR G2, considering space, cooling and power requirements, available on the Cisco website.

Booting up UCS Express

Getting started takes a little rethinking because two of the Ethernet ports on the UCS Express blades are internal to the ISR G2 router. Rather than connecting all four of the Ethernet interfaces to the network, we connected the two physical interfaces, and then went into the ISR G2 command line to control the two internal interfaces. Once you figure all this out which takes about 30 minutes, tops then testing UCS Express is a breeze.


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