Cisco data center revamp cuts across switches, servers, storage

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

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.

VM-FEX extends switching to the server hypervisor to forward VM traffic with a physical switch instead of a virtual switch in the hypervisor. This enables IT managers to consolidate the virtual and physical access layers for better performance, and allow for network and security policy mobility with VMs.

FEX on the Nexus 7000 is comprised of the Nexus 2232PP 32-port 10G fabric extender, which is now supported by the 7000. This provides a single point of management for up to 1,500 ports per chassis by effectively extending the Nexus 7000 to the top of a server rack vs. deploying a Nexus 5000 switch.

Another enhancement is a capability Cisco calls director-class, multi-hop FibreChannel-over-Ethernet (FCoE) for the Nexus 7000 and the MDS 9500 SAN switch. Essentially, it's FCoE on each platform. This brings a unified fabric not only to the access layer – with existing support on Cisco's Nexus 5000 top-of-rack switch – but to the core of the network as well. This allows all platforms to support all types of storage traffic --FibreChannel, FCoE, iSCSI, and NAS -- over loss-less 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Cisco says.

Director-class multihop FCoE support has also been added to the Nexus NX-OS operating system. Cisco has added MPLS to NX-OS and the Nexus 7000 to support Layer 3 VPNs.

Cisco also extended the venerable Catalyst 6500 switch with an application control engine (ACE)-30 module for workload scaling with the company's Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV) Layer 2 data center interconnection technology. This provides 54% higher performance for application delivery, Cisco says.

In addition, Cisco rolled out for the Catalyst 6500 the ES-40 module, which provides 40 Gigabit line-rate performance for data center interconnection using MPLS or VPLS; and a new ASA firewall and security services module.

What's more, Cisco unveiled the MDS 9000 Storage Media Encryption fabric service, which offers secure media encryption for disks and tapes to meet security requirements for regulatory compliance. Cisco added two new services to its Nexus 101 appliance: Virtual Security Gateway, which provides VM-level segmentation in a multi-tenant virtualized data center; and Cisco Data Center Network Management.

In its UCS server portfolio, Cisco added the C260 M2 rack-mount server for performance-intensive applications and twice the memory capacity of comparable 2-socket traditional servers. Cisco introduced new versions of UCS B230 M2, B440 M2, and C460 M2 servers based on the next generation Intel Xeon processor, code-named Westmere EX.

Cisco enhanced its Data Center Network Manager (DCNM) to now enable converged SAN, LAN, and server management for up to 150,000 ports. It also offers integration with VMware vCenter for provisioning, performance, and trouble-shooting.Most products will be available in the second quarter. The C260 M2 server will be available in the third quarter. The 5548UP and 5596UP switches are shipping at $750 per port.  The ACE 30 module is  shipping at a cost of $40,000. The director-class FCoE license on the Nexus 7000 costs $10,000. The data center interconnect line cards for the Catalyst 6500 cost $50,000 for a two-port 10G version and $95,000 for a four-port 10G configuration.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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