Cisco delivers new switch for unified fabrics

By Kevin Komiega

—Cisco has begun delivering on its promise to provide a new family of switching products with the debut of the Nexus family of data-center-class Ethernet switches and the expansion of its Catalyst switching products.

The Nexus 7000 switch is the focal point for Cisco's product strategy for so-called "next generation data centers"—data centers in which traditional networks and storage networks combine to form massive, high-speed unified fabrics.

The Nexus 7000 is the first series of switches from Cisco that can scale up to 15 terabits per second (Tbps) of throughput. Building on the company's SAN operating system and IOS software, the Nexus 7000 also features the introduction of the Nexus Operating System (NX-OS), which delivers real-time system upgrades. Cisco also introduced a centralized administration solution, Data Center Network Manager (DCNM), to simplify network operations.

"The Nexus 7000 is the first in our new family of Data Center 3.0 products, and it is the core of the Data Center 3.0 architecture," says Bill Lulofs, product manager with Cisco's Data Center Business Unit. "Over the past three years, Cisco has been focused on understanding the operational requirements of the data center as it moves toward a unified fabric. We wanted to make sure that two distinct types of networks can co-exist on a single platform to be able to bring up new services and respond to application resource requirements quicker in virtual environments."

However, Lulofs says, implementing the Nexus 7000 will not create a rip-and-replace scenario for customers. "This switch will enable users to transform their data centers if they want to, but it will not force anyone to combine their networks," he says.

The Nexus switch is interoperable with existing Cisco fabric switches. From a storage perspective, the Nexus 7000 functions as the high-speed core of the so-called unified fabric while Cisco's family of MDS switches will still provide and facilitate storage services and applications across the network infrastructure.

"The Nexus 7000 connects to existing Catalyst and MDS switches. It is not a replacement for either product," says Lulofs.

According to Lulofs, emerging storage standards will play a big role in determining the future capabilities of the Nexus 7000. As an Ethernet switch, the Nexus supports iSCSI and, once it becomes an industry standard, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) support will also be built into the platform.

"We plan to take Fibre Channel traffic over the Nexus 7000 via FCoE, although there is not a set timeframe for that at this point," says Lulofs.

Cisco is also upgrading some of its existing hardware to accommodate its Data Center 3.0 strategy. In an effort to address the inevitable move from Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) to 10GbE networks, Cisco is now offering a 16-port 10GbE module that provides up to 130 ports of 10GbE connectivity per Catalyst 6500 switch, and 260 ports per Catalyst 6500 Virtual Switching System. The new module increases the architectural scalability of the Catalyst 6500 which, according to Cisco, can help reduce power consumption by as much as 50% per port. The new module doubles the 10GbE port density of the 6500 and is aimed at enabling high-performance campus LAN aggregation, so customers can scale bandwidth for video and other collaboration applications.

Cisco also introduced the Catalyst 6509 Enhanced Vertical Chassis (V-E) as the newest member of its Catalyst 6500-E series family. The 6509-V-E chassis has nine vertical slots with front-to-back airflow, which is a requirement for the hot-aisle/cold-aisle designs in modern data centers and service provider collocation deployments. As a part of the Catalyst 6500-E series, the 6509 V-E supports performance of up to 80Gbps per slot for future supervisor engines and modules. Today, the Catalyst 6509-V-E supports the Catalyst 6500 Supervisor Engine 720 and 32, as well as associated LAN, WAN and other services modules.

Another addition to the Catalyst line is the 4900M series, which has been optimized for rack-server aggregation. The 4900M offers transport flexibility with optimized buffering for top-of-rack switching and mixing 10/100/1000 Ethernet and 10GbE ports with up to 40 10/100/1000 ports or 24 10GbE ports. The 4900M is a 320Gbps, 250 million packets per second (mpps), two-rack-unit (2RU) fixed-configuration switch that provides operational continuity with redundant power and fans.

Rounding out Cisco's news is the availability of the Catalyst Blade Switches for Dell's new PowerEdge M1000e blade-server enclosure. Cisco also introduced Virtual Blade Switch (VBS) technology on the new Catalyst Blade Switch that allows up to eight switches to be managed as one logical switch for reduced infrastructure complexity. The VBS technology provides 160Gbps performance.

The Nexus 7000 series starts at $75,000, with general availability within the next few months. The Catalyst 6509-V-R Chassis and Catalyst 4900M series are priced from $9,995 and $22,000, respectively. The 16-port 10 Gigabit Ethernet Module will be available in the second quarter.

This article was originally published on February 07, 2008