A Look at the Cisco UCS M-Series

On September 4th, Cisco released a new line of modular servers under the UCS family known at the M-Series.  Interesting enough, though, Cisco’s not calling the new servers “blade servers” but instead they are taking a play out of HP’s Moonshot playbook and calling them “cartridges.”   The M-Series won’t be available until Q4 of this year, but in this blog post, I’ll highlight the information Cisco has provided.
Cisco is taking a very unique approach with the UCS M-Series.  Veering away from the tradition server model of each server having its own NIC and RAID controller, the servers in the M-Series are “disaggregated” and share a NIC and Storage.  Although this platform is ideal for nearly any single-threaded application, Cisco appears to be targeting the M-Series for “Cloud-Scale Applications.”

M4308 Chassis

M-Series-M4308-Chassis-Front-1024x500The chassis for the new M-Series is known as the M4308 and is a 2U form factor that holds 8 x 1/4 width server M142 server cartridges – more on these below.  As you can see in the image, the front of the chassis is not very complex.  On the left side is a series of LEDs that give basic information on the chassis such as if it has power, if there are any alerts and if there is network connectivity.  On the right side you’ll notice LEDs with the numbers 1 – 8 signifying the cartridges, most likely confirming they are connected and powered on.

Cisco M4308 chassis - rearThe rear of the chassis houses the 4 x SSD drive bays (choice of SAS or SATA drives with capacities ranging from 240 GB to 1.6 TB per disk) that are connected to a single 12G modular RAID controller with 2-GB flash-backed write cache (FBWC).  The chassis shared 2 x 1400 W power supplies and has 2 x 40GbE uplinks.  From what I can understand, these 40GbE links connect the single internal Virtual Interface Card that is shared across each of the server cartridges (which equates to 5GbE per server.)  In the image of the rear of the chassis on the left side is what appears to be a PCIe port that could be shared across the blades server cartridges, however nothing was mentioned in the blog or data sheets, so that slot’s use is unclear.  One thing they did mention in the Cisco blog is that the design of sharing RAID and NICs is performed through something called UCS System Link Technology – a silicon-based technology  that gives M-Series the ability to connect these disaggregated subsystems via a UCS System Link fabric and create a truly composable infrastructure. Based on details from the data sheet, the 40GbE uplinks will connect directly into the UCS 6200 Fabric Interconnect, and up to 20 M4308 chassis can be connected in a single domain.  Hopefully Cisco will reveal more about this technology as it gets closer to availability in Q4.

M142 Server Cartridge

Cisco M142 CartridgeThe Cisco UCS M-Series sesrvers are nothing like the UCS B-Series blade servers, which is perhaps why Cisco is calling them “cartridges”.  A single cartridge actually holds 2 servers each with 1 x Intel E3 CPU, and 4 x 8GB DDR3, 1600MHz DIMMs.  The Intel E3 CPU speeds being offered are:

  • Intel® Xeon® processor E3-1275L v3 (8-MB cache, 2.7 GHz), 4 cores, and 45W
  • Intel® Xeon® processor E3-1240L v3 (8-MB cache, 2.0 GHz), 4 cores, and 25W
  • Intel® Xeon® processor E3-1220L v3 (4-MB cache, 1.1 GHz), 2 cores, and 13W

A quick observation – if you multiply 45W x 16 compute nodes, you come out to 720W.  As mentioned above, the chassis has 2 x 1400W redundant power supplies, so this leaves 700+W for the VIC and RAID – or is this a preview into what Cisco’s next cartridge might require?

For more information on the Cisco UCS M-Series, visit Cisco’s website.



Kevin Houston - Founder, BladesMadeSimple.comKevin Houston is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of BladesMadeSimple.com.  He has over 17 years of experience in the x86 server marketplace.  Since 1997 Kevin has worked at several resellers in the Atlanta area, and has a vast array of competitive x86 server knowledge and certifications as well as an in-depth understanding of VMware and Citrix virtualization.  Kevin works for Dell as a Server Sales Engineer covering the Global Enterprise market.


Disclaimer: The views presented in this blog are personal views and may or may not reflect any of the contributors’ employer’s positions. Furthermore, the content is not reviewed, approved or published by any employer.