Cisco Systems(CSCO) continues to fill out its vision for the converged data center of the future. While Cisco's new blade server is a key part of its ambitions, the company is also offering a way for other server vendors to plug their blades into unified fabrics powered by Cisco networking gear.
Today the networking giant is announcing the Nexus 4000, a blade switch that integrates with blade server enclosures, including non-Cisco blade chassis. Cisco’s introduction of its B-Series "Project California" blade server raised expectations of tensions with long-time partners IBM and HP. Cisco isn't yet identifying which server vendors will embrace the Nexus 4000, leaving those future announcements to its partners.
Nexus Blade Switch
The Nexus 4000 blade switch supports the NX-OS operating system that is central to its "Data Center 3.0" vision for a converged data enter network that allows server and storage networks to connect seamlessly.
A unified network fabric offers the potential to reduce the number of interface connections to the server level, 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.
Cisco says the Nexus 4000 will allow users to consolidate switches, eliminating the need to have both an Ethernet and Fiber Channel switches to connect blade infrastructure to the LAN and storage networks. The 4000 can connect with the Nexus 5000 and 7000 switches as well as Cisco's MDS line of Fiber Channel switches for storage area networks
Upgrade Path to 10 GB Ethernet
Ranjeet Sudan, Cisco senior product manager for its blade switch line, said the Nexus 4000 will figure in the plans of companies upgrading their networks from 1 Gigabit Ethernet to 10 Gigabit. "It can be used for an existing buildout, but most customers will do so as part of a refresh," said Sudan.
The Nexus 4000 will support Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE), the new standard for Ethernet with reduced packet loss, a key feature in supporting storage traffic. A key part of Cisco's approach to next-generation networking is using Fiber Channel over Ethernet (CFoE) and CEE as a platform for unifying Fiber Channel SANs with the LAN.
Committed to MDS
Cisco's advancement of FCoE has raised questions in some quarters about its commitment to its MDS line. "There's a lot of FUD being spread out there that the MDS is going away," said Bob Nusbaum, product line manager for Cisco's SAN switches. "The MDS is not going away."
Today Cisco will outline its roadmap for the MDS and its "evolutionary" path to a unified fabric, with the NX-OS operating system providing management capabilities for multi-protocol storage networking. The announcements will be outlined in a live Internet broadcast at 10 am Pacific time.
No More "Data Center Ethernet"
Nusbaum said Cisco's approach will support FICON, NAS/iSCSCI and Fiber Channel over IP, in addition to FCoE and CEE. "Our unified fabric is not just FCoE, but unifying all these protocols," he said.
Some of the terminology around converged networking is starting to unify as well. Cisco initially used the term "Data Center Ethernet" instead of CEE or "Data Center Bridging" (the IEEE language), which ruffled some feathers because Cisco had trademarked the term. Nusbaum says Cisco will now use CEE or Data Center Bridging.
"We thought it was simple way to describe it," Nusbaum said of Data Center Ethernet. "But it was causing confusion."