Cisco airs server management appliance

Cisco unveils new software that allows provisioning and booting of servers

Cisco introduced an appliance that lets servers be provisioned off storage on the network.

Cisco on Tuesday rolled out a software/hardware combination designed to automate provisioning and booting of servers from images stored on storage-area networks (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) devices.

VFrame Data Center is supplied on a 1U (1.75-inch) high rack-mounted x86 server-based appliance running embedded Red Hat Linux. The offering was announced as part of a broad Cisco data center strategy.

VFrame Data Center software was written to run natively on a server that contains both Fibre Channel host bus adapters and Ethernet network adapters so it doesn't require a gateway to virtualize the runtime image in the server. It differs from Cisco's VFrame IB (InfiniBand) technology, introduced a couple of years ago, which used gateway technology. The gateway did the I/O mapping of servers containing an InfiniBand adapter to downstream Ethernet or Fibre Channel services.

"Cisco is aligning the provisioning of network and I/O connectivity resources for general purpose LANs, as well as storage-specific SANs and NAS infrastructure with the management of server-side resources to support virtual data centers," says Greg Schulz, senior analyst with StorageIO.

Schulz says VFrame Data Center goes a long way toward automating data center operations.

"The reality with virtual data centers and virtual IT resources is that they still rely on real and physical resources in the form of servers, storage, networks and software that need to be configured and managed," Schulz says. "Someone has to manage the different pieces of the physical infrastructure to support a virtual environment and Cisco is taking a step in the right direction to support and virtualize the management of I/O connectivity for virtual servers."

How Cisco's storage software management works:

The controller of the VFrame Data Center sits in the management and control plane, not in the data plane, where storage and network operations could be disrupted. The server's boot image can be changed on the fly by redirecting the server to another boot image. Through the dynamic redirecting of that server to the different boot image, for instance, IT could run the server on Windows one minute and the next on Linux. Cisco is also working on support for VMware Infrastructure 3 by year-end.

The VFrame Data Center understands the Media Access Control address and the World Wide Name addresses and can configure those server interfaces on the fly for any x86-based server that contains an Emulex or QLogic host bus adapter or Ethernet adapters containing Broadcom or Intel chipsets and remap it to a new boot image and DNS (Domain Name Service) server.

VFrame Data Center connects to the Fibre Channel switch and the Ethernet network concurrently to supply both SAN and network services to the server. It is compatible with a variety of Cisco Catalyst switches and with the company's MDS 9500, 92xx and 91xx Fibre Channel MultiLayer switches. The VFrame Data Center appliance has been tested with HP, iBM, Dell and Sun servers and blade servers from HP and IBM. Further it works with EMC Symmetrix DMX and Clariion arrays and Network Appliance file servers. An upcoming release will include support for Hitachi Data Systems arrays and HP's Enterprise Virtual Array.

VFrame Data Center starts at US$60,000 and is expected to ship in August.

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