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Cisco data center revamp cuts across switches, servers, storage

10G Nexus 3000 Ethernet switch debuts; no sign of “Jawbreaker” data center fabric line yet

By , Network World
March 30, 2011 12:08 AM ET

Network World - Cisco this week is expanding its data center product portfolio with a new switch, extensions to existing ones, and enhancements to its servers and software.

The new and enhanced products stretch across Cisco's Nexus switching line, MDS SAN platform, Unified Computing System server offering and NX-OS operating system software, among others. They are intended to more tightly integrate and unify servers, storage and networks into a data center fabric designed to simplify operations and scale into the cloud.

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Cisco's feeling the heat from multiple fronts in the data center and, conversely, other vendors are feeling the heat from Cisco. Cisco's revamped data center portfolio will go up against Juniper's recently unveiled QFabric line, Brocade's Brocade One products, Arista's 7000 series switches, Avaya's VENA architecture, Alcatel-Lucent's "Application Fluent" switches, platforms from Enterasys, Extreme and Force10, and server/storage/switching and virtualization architectures from HP, IBM and Dell.

"Cisco needs a broader fabric story for their architectural approach" to data center sales, says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group. "But it comes down to execution and providing proof points that that it works like Infiniband," the data center fabric technology deployed for lossless data transmission.

"Any amount of risk is too much risk for the buyer," Kerravala says.

Cisco is still, however, expected to launch a new data center fabric line under the code-name "Jawbreaker." This week's product rollout did not include Jawbreaker.


It did, however, include the new Nexus 3000 switch. As expected, the Nexus 3000 is a low-latency, high-density 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch specifically designed for market trading. The one-rack-unit switch supports Layer 2/3 wire-rate switching for both unicast and multicast transmissions.

The Nexus 3000 sports 48 1G/10G Ethernet ports with 1 microsecond port-to-port latency.

Enhanced products include so-called Universal Port capabilities on the Nexus 5548 and 5596 switches. Unified Port allows users to designate any port to be 1G or 10G Ethernet, 2/4/8G FibreChannel or FibreChannel-over-Ethernet. The products support Layer 2/3 switching and the IEEE 802.1Qbh standard for port extension of remote physical switches doing heavy duty processing on behalf of virtualized switches in blade servers. The switches are also capable of supporting Cisco's FabricPath software for building large data center fabrics with multiple active paths to accommodate increasing "east-west" traffic flows across multiple server racks.


Cisco also rolled out three additions to its fabric extender (FEX) line designed to stretch the data center fabric from Nexus switches to UCS servers to adapters and virtual machines. FEX is also based on 802.1Qbh.

The three new FEX products include Adapter FEX, VM-FEX and FEX Support for Nexus 7000.  Adapter FEX splits a physical NIC into multiple logical ones to accommodate multiple VMs per NIC, while maintaining a single point of management. Cisco says Broadcom, Emulex and QLogic plan to put Adapter FEX on their silicon and NICs.

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