Cisco’s new data centre fabric strategy targets cloud

Cisco Systems Inc. is poised to provide the infrastructure that powers your hybrid cloud environment as the networking giant revamped its data centre fabric portfolio on Wednesday.

The company’s data centre business strategy will integrate its unified computing, unified network services and unified fabric portfolios to improve network scalability and app delivery across multiple data centres locations.

Rather than focusing on cloud services, Cisco’s focus is squarely on helping enterprise IT shops build out fully converged, hybrid data centres. Cisco’s goal, in a nutshell, is to allow multiple data centres and external cloud services to be connected efficiently across a common fabric.

“Our belief is at the end of the day, everyone will end up in a hybrid cloud model,” said Omar Sultan, senior manager of data centre architecture for Cisco’s Data Center Solutions unit. “Some stuff they’ll keep in-house, but they’ll take advantage of the public cloud where it makes sense.”

To facilitate both the private cloud and externally hosted services, Cisco unveiled a host of new networking products.

The move appears to be a direct response to increased pressure from competitors which includes Juniper Networks Inc.’s QFabric architecture launched last month. Bigger vendors such as HP, IBM, and Dell have also hit the market with new server, storage and data centre architecture products recently.

Leading the way is Cisco’s new line of Nexus converged switches, which run on Cisco’s NX-OS operating system. The Nexus 3000 series switch, which will be available in Q2 2011, is designed for organizations that “care about latency and not much else,” Sultan said.

The low latency, high-density 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch support Layer 2/3 wire-rate switching is geared toward financial, collocation and research firms. Basically, Sultan said, any organization that is involved in high performance computing.

The Nexus 5548UP and 5596UP switches round out the new additions for Cisco, both of which could act as a “workhorse switch” for IT shops. With unified port capabilities on these 48- and 96-port switches, the 5500 switches are suitable for 1GbE, 10GbE, 8GbE fiber channel or Fibre Channel over Ethernet on any of the ports.

Cisco also introduced multi-hop FCoE functionality to the switch platform in the Nexus 7000 family and the MDS 9500 storage switch. This feature supports all types of storage traffic and is geared toward complex 10 Gigabit Ethernet shops.

Also key to its cloud strategy is Cisco’s update to its Fabric Extender technology, which lets customers connect Cisco Nexus switches with the company’s UCS servers, adapters and virtual machines. The three additions to the fabric extension portfolio are all based on the IEEE 802.1Qbh standard, with the most notable being VM-FEX, an adapter which provides switch of virtual machine traffic in hardware.

Continuing on the virtualization theme, Cisco announced future support for its Location/ID Separation Protocol to Nexus 7000 switches. With LISP, IP addresses are decoupled from their host location, enabling global IP address portability.

For enterprise customers, Sultan said, this allows for better workload mobility across data centres and makes the transition to IPv6 much easier. “It can let you maintain IPv4 addresses, but still provider IPv6 addresses to your service providers,” he said.

Rounding out the new virtualization management tools is VMPath, which allows IT administrators to see and troubleshoot the path of particular VMs “across the network to its storage targets.”

Jason Reil, product sales specialist for Cisco Canada, said most of Canada’s biggest enterprises have invested heavily in the Nexus platform. With these new additions, he said, IT shops will be able to expand further into features such as VMware’s vMotion and other workload mobility options.

Steve Simmons, vice-president of business development and solutions at Oakville, Ont.-based solutions provider Unis Lumin Inc., said Cisco’s Nexus 3000 and 5500 series offerings will help extend the company’s reach into the Canadian midmarket.

These companies, he said, are looking for networking infrastructure that will help them lay the groundwork for their private cloud rollout.

“Customers of all sizes will now be able to adopt a unified fabric to move to a private cloud architecture,” he said, referring to mid-sized companies that don’t need all the features and cost that come with Cisco’s Nexus 7000 series.

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