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Cisco accelerates broadening of data center role with host of new products

Virtual machine software, SAN extensions highlight product splash

By , Network World
September 17, 2008 08:36 AM ET

Network World - Cisco this week launched several products designed to expand the capabilities of its switches and routers in further virtualizing data center systems and processes.

The broadened lineup includes virtual machine (VM) switching software, SAN switching modules and operating system enhancements, as well as extensions to its WAN application acceleration portfolio to virtualize branch offices and desktops. The new products underscore Cisco’s intention to assume more general and overall IT functions within compute-intensive data centers beyond its traditional switching and routing role.

Some of the new products were expected.

The VM switching software is called VN-Link and it comes in two flavors: Nexus 1000V, which is a software-only version for multivendor servers; and hardware embedded into Cisco’s Nexus 5000 data center switch.

VN-Link runs with VMware’s ESX server software and is a replacement for that software’s VM switching capability. VN-Link features policy-based VM connectivity and mobility, by taking a VM’s network and security properties with it while it is moved around the data center.

This is intended to provide consistent operations of the mobile VM environment, Cisco says.

The new SAN products include three 8Gbps Fibre Channel switching modules for Cisco’s MDS 9000 SAN switches, and new capabilities in Cisco’s SAN operating system, which has been re-branded NX-OS. The modules are intended to upgrade MDS 9000 customers to higher speeds from the 2G and 4Gbps speeds the switches now support.(Compare Fibre Channel Switch products.)

The modules sport 24, 48 or four 8G/44 4Gbps ports – for consolidation of standard servers – and support line-rate encryption of Fibre Channel data between any Cisco MDS 9000 8Gbps module, Cisco says. The modules adhere to Cisco’s TrustSec Fibre Channel security architecture, which defines role-based access to networked resources.

The Cisco SAN operating system, SAN-OS, has been renamed NX-OS to reflect Cisco’s goal of developing a single data center operating system optimized for a unified – or Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) – switching fabric for both LAN and SAN traffic. Enhancements to NX-OS include support for the new 8Gbps modules; consistent policy, visibility, and diagnostics for both physical and virtual server environments; virtual machine awareness through VN-Link; and data erasure.

The new Cisco 8Gbps SAN switch modules are expected to be available in the fourth quarter. Pricing will be set by Cisco’s storage partners, which will be offering the new modules.

The enhancements to Cisco’s Wide Area Applications Services (WAAS) appliance include new platforms with blades that feature desktop virtualization capabilities. These models are designed to lower branch office desktop operations costs by reducing bandwidth consumption and improving performance across the WAN by virtualizing desktop applications among remote users. (Compare Application Acceleration and WAN Traffic Optimization products.)

Cisco's WAAS extensions are an attempt to further differentiate its WAN application offerings from those of competitors Citrix and Riverbed, says Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group.

"The vendors are starting to take their own directions," Kerravala says. "What Cisco is doing is creating their own differentiation. I think that's pretty cool: the more mobile we become and the more user-centric -- (seeking) a consistent user experience -- creates a broader audience for the product."

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