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Cisco's TRILL drill: FabricPath beats IETF standard to market

FabricPath enhancement to Cisco's NX-OS operating system combines Layer 2 configuration and flexibility with Layer 3 convergence and scale

By , Network World
June 30, 2010 10:49 AM ET

Network World - LAS VEGAS -- Cisco this week expanded its data center arsenal with software, switches, modules and services all designed to scale the infrastructure to meet the demanding needs of virtualization, application complexity and cloud computing

Topping the list of extensions rolled out at Cisco Live! is FabricPath, an enhancement to Cisco's NX-OS operating system for its Nexus switches that combines Layer 2 configuration and flexibility with Layer 3 convergence and scale. FabricPath is intended to enable users to build large data center fabrics with multiple active paths to accommodate increasing "east-west" traffic flows across multiple server racks.

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High server-to-server traffic loads can create inconsistent network behavior, which impacts performance, Cisco says. FabricPath is intended to scale this bisectional bandwidth and create a non-blocking architecture to enable more predictable performance.

It is also intended to allow users to maintain virtual LAN (VLAN) assignments and adjacencies when adding server capacity to handle application growth. VLANs can be extended east-west across server racks through FabricPath's multiple active links to facilitate location independent workloads, Cisco says.

Such capabilities are crucial to building large-scale data center fabrics that unify LAN and storage traffic across a lossless Ethernet infrastructure. But Cisco competitors are opting for an emerging IETF standard called Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) to achieve scale for unified data center fabrics.

Cisco says FabricPath is a "superset" of TRILL that enhances scale, among other features. But Cisco also says it will support TRILL when it is standardized, which is expected to be next year.

Analysts say in the meantime, Cisco may get a leg up on rivals in selling large-scale unified fabrics to data center customers.

"It will give them a product six months ahead of Brocade and Juniper," says Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group. "They can get some early mover advantage, early share, early best practices. And when Cisco gets that share a lot of vendors may have to support a Cisco de facto standard. But the downside is the risk that customers will have to rip out [FabricPath] if it's too distant from the standard."

To harness FabricPath's attributes, Cisco also unveiled modules for the Nexus 7000 switch specifically designed for unified fabrics. The F-Series modules feature 32 autosensing 1/10G Ethernet ports, raising the Nexus 7000's density to 512 ports per system for server access and aggregation.

The modules are built to support TRILL and the IEEE's Data Center Bridging standards, feature port-to-port latency of 5 microseconds, and consume about 1 watt per gigabit. They cost about $1,000 per 10G ports and can be ordered in the third calendar quarter.

The modules and FabricPath software allow Cisco to packaged six Nexus switches together as a single product for building large-scale data center switching fabrics. The FabricPath Switching System can be grouped in clusters of eight -- or 48 Nexus 7000 chassis -- to achieve 160Tbps of switching capacity and more than 5,000 line rate 10G Ethernet ports, Cisco says.

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