Cisco Systems (CSCO) today is unveiling a new line of switches to support a "unified fabric" allowing customers to seamlessly integrate servers and storage in data center networks. The Nexus Series of switches marks the next phase in Cisco's Data Center 3.0 initiative, and features a new operating system (NX-OS) and data center network management tool.
The Nexus 7000 Series runs Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), an emerging protocol that can connect LAN-based servers with Fibre Channel storage networks, creating a flexible high-speed data center infrastructure. Existing Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches will also be able to plug into the unified fabric.
The use of Fibre Channel over Ethernet offers the potential to reduce the number of interface connections on each server, eliminating the need for separate connections for Ethernet and Fibre Channel, a protocol that is widely used in storage area networks (SANs). This would result in fewer cables, adapters and switches, which in turn would reduce power consumption. It will also allow greater portability for virtual machines within the data center.
Cisco launched its Data Center 3.0 initiative last July with a focus on managing virtualized data centers, and introduced VFrame Data Center, an "orchestration solution" to link computing, networking and storage infrastructures together as a set of virtualized services.
With the Nexus Series, Cisco is seeking to place its equipment at the heart of a unified fabric - a single technology delivering all data center networking requirements. Deepak Munjal, Cisco's senior VP of marketing for Data Center Solutions, describes the unified fabric as the "holy grail" of data center networking.
"We really believe the main impetus of the unified fabric is the maintenance of all existing Fibre Channel investments," said Munjal. "We believe this is the way most networks will converge."
To accomplish that, Cisco is embracing Fibre Channel over Ethernet, a protocol that encapsulates a Fibre Channel frame in a regular Ethernet frame. FCoE is expected by be ratified this year by the American National Standards Institute. In addition to Cisco, the standard is supported by EMC Corp., IBM, Intel (INTC) and Sun Microsystems (JAVA).
iSCSI has also been advanced as a potentially unifying standard for data center networking (Chuck Hollis has summarized the history of FCoE vs. iSCSI) and Cisco's commitment to FCoE will likely revive discussion of the protocols' merits. Cisco also isn't alone in pursuing a single data center fabric, as competitor Brocade Communications last week introduced a DCX switch that it says can support FCoE and iSCSI.
Cisco says it has invested more than $1 billion in research and development for its Data Center 3.0 initiative, and has filed for more than 1,500 associated patents. Munjal said the Nexus Series has been in development for four years, based on feedback from customers of its Catalyst switches. Cisco says the Nexus 7000 can accommodate switching capacity up to 15 terabits a second.
The Nexus Series 7000 (and additional switch and blade server products to follow) will run on NX-OS, Cisco's new "data center class" operating system. Cisco also is introducing Data Center Network Manager, which it describes as providing a "single pane of glass" view of the data center. It has also designed the Nexus Series to provide improved capabilities in routing traffic around reloading equipment.
Munjal said today's announcements, part of a series of rollouts of products to support Data Center 3.0, will solidify Cisco as a force in the data center. "We believe the network is the unifying tool for the data center," he said.