Cisco upgrades data centre switches

Cisco Systems Inc. announced on Tuesday it will ship new products designed to connect storage, switches, servers and virtual machine software in data centres. These include security software for the Nexus 1000V soft switch.

The San Jose, Calif. network equipment manufacturer announced Unified Network Services, which includes the Nexus 5548 switch, the Catalyst 6513-E chassis, wide-area network optimization software and the Virtual Security Gateway for the Nexus 1000V.

It’s all part of Cisco’s strategy to compete with mainstream IT vendors, especially Hewlett Packard Development Co. LP, and network equipment vendors such as Juniper Networks Inc., in the data centre space.

“As the compute and networking worlds continue to merge together, being able to control the end to end performance becomes more important,” said Zeus Kerravala, distinguished research fellow at Yankee Group Research Inc. of Boston.

With the Virtual Security Gateway and Virtual Wide Area Application Services, Cisco wants to let users apply consistent policies across a virtual environment, said Shashi Kiran, Cisco’s director of data centre and virtualization marketing.

“A service provider can provide segmented security areas,” Kiran said. For example, he said, if a virtual machine moves into the trusted zone of a virtual local-area network (VLAN), it will “inherit” certain security characteristics.

“If it starts misbehaving, the security policies can change and put it into a quarantined zone,” Kiran said.

Virtual WAAS runs on VMware’s ESX/ESXi hypervisor and the Unified Computing System (UCS) servers. VWAAS is designed to accelerate application delivery from private and virtual private cloud infrastructures.

Also included in Unified Network Services are the Nexus Fabric Extender 2224TP and the B230 M1 blade server, which is part of Cisco’s UCS server family, first launched last year.


Cisco added new storage features to its hardware. For example, the Nexus 5548 will eventually include an option for Unified Port, a feature that lets users configure ports for either Ethernet or Fiber Channel traffic. Cisco says the switch will also transport traffic from other storage protocols, including iSCSI and InfiniBand, over Ethernet.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Kerravala said of the Nexus 5548.  “It allows companies to migrate to unified fabric at their own pace.  When you want to move to iSCSI or (Fiber Channel over Ethernet) or whatever, you could move over to a new protocol whenever you want.”

The first version of 5548 is scheduled to ship this year, without the Unified Port, but the expansion module with Unified Port is scheduled to ship in 2011, said Rajan Panchanathan, director of product management, for Cisco’s server access business unit. Cisco has yet to publish pricing.

The Nexus switch series is designed for data centres using virtualization software from VMware Inc., the virtual machine subsidiary of Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp.  One cornerstone to this strategy is Cisco’s Nexus 1000V switch, a software product announced at VMworld two years ago. The Nexus 1000V’s claim to fame is VN-Link, which enables what Cisco calls a “logical network infrastructure.” Cisco’s intent is that network administrators can configure policies for virtual machine interfaces in much the same way they would configure hardware switches in the past.

On Tuesday Cisco announced it will add Virtual Security Gateway (VSG), which is firewall software for the Nexus 1000V and is designed to let network managers set security policies on virtual machines.

“Where it really plays a key role is in multi tenancy cloud computing environment,” Kiran said. “If the physical capacity of a server becomes an issue and you have virtual machines moving from one server to another, you need security policies maintained regardless of where the virtual machine is,” he said.

“This helps secure the transport which I think is a big barrier to cloud computing,” Kerravala said. “It would give people some comfort that security’s being addressed.”

The introduction of UCS in 2009 caused a stir in the IT industry because Cisco’s traditional business is routers and switches. So instead of selling switches to a firm such as HP who would then resell them and offer its own servers as part of a complete data centre package, Cisco is marketing itself as a mainstream IT provider. Cisco wants to off its own switches and servers with a firm such as EMC Corp. or NetApp Inc. providing the storage systems and VMware providing the virtual machine software.

Juniper, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is also competing in data centre networking with its Stratus project. Juniper’s answer to Cisco’s Nexus 5000 series is the EX4500, announced last May.


When Cisco launched UCS, HP was already an established server and storage player, but its networking lineup was limited to its Procurve switches. So HP acquired 3Com Corp. and 3Com’s high end switches are now part of HP’s A series for data centres. HP also expanded its storage offerings with the acquisition of 3Par Inc.

Other server manufacturers could compete with Cisco in the data centre by expanding their networking offerings, Kerravala said.

“IBM or Dell could get into networking by buying Brocade,” he added. Brocade Communications Systems Inc. specialized in storage-area networking products until it acquired Foundry Networks Inc. two years ago.

With files from Jim Duffy

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