Cisco unveils data center blade switch

Nexus data centre switches use 10G Ethernet fabric

Cisco this week unveiled a blade addition to its Nexus line of data center switches that’s designed to aggregate multiple physical x86 blade servers from various vendors into a 10G Ethernet fabric.

Cisco broadens data center ambitions

The Nexus 4000 is the first blade switch in the Nexus line, which also includes the Nexus 7000 core switch, the 5000 top-of-rack switch, the 2000 fabric extender and the 1000V software-based virtual switch. The 4000 is intended to fit inside a blade server system enclosure and aggregate multiple 1G server NIC connections into a 10G pipe for connection to and from the Nexus 5000 and 7000 top-of-rack and core switches.

The Nexus 4000 supports the same NX-OS converged LAN/SAN operating system as the rest of the Nexus family, and Cisco’s MDS SAN switch line. This is intended to provide consistency across the data center as well as scale, high availability, fault tolerance and uniform management, Cisco says.

The Nexus 4000 supports FibreChannel and FibreChannel over Ethernet, and IP-based iSCSI or Network Attached Storage over Ethernet Data Center Bridging specifications for converged LAN and storage access from the server. It features a specialized ASIC for low latency and lossless operation in a virtualized environment, Cisco says.

It can work in conjunction with Cisco’s Nexus 1000V virtual switch, which resides on blade servers running VMware’s ESX 4.0 virtualization software. The 1000V aggregates virtual machine images from a single server while the 4000 aggregates multiple physical blade servers, Cisco says.

The Nexus 4000 will be sold to Cisco’s OEM customers who will rebrand it and then sell it to end users. Cisco expects its existing base of Catalyst blade switch OEMs to purchase the new Nexus blade switch.

Since it is being developed for blade server vendors, Cisco says it will leave product details, availability and pricing up to those particular vendors. The new switch will compete with HP’s new 6120XG and 6120G/XG blade switches, and 6- and 10-port BNT switches from Blade Network Technologies, which are resold by IBM.

The Nexus 4000 is a small piece of a broader strategy outlined by Cisco for its data center and FCoE initiatives. As part of that strategy, Cisco is positioning its MDS FibreChannel SAN switches as evolutionary elements in the transition to unified data center switching fabrics.

In that vein, Cisco says it plans to unveil FCoE modules for both the MDS and Nexus 7000 switches; a 16Gbps FibreChannel MDS switch; and an 8Gbps FibreChannel expansion module for the Nexus 5000 FCoE switch. These will likely come in the first half of 2010, Cisco officials said.

These will be piece parts in Cisco’s plan to incrementally evolve data centers to FCoE by starting at the server edge/access point and deepening the immersion into the aggregation and core areas of the data center network.

The University of Arizona is embarking on the transformation right now. Eighteen months ago, the school commenced an “enterprise system replacement” project to upgrade its data center networking facilities to better support its HR, student information, financial management, grants management, business management and data warehousing applications.

The school needed an infrastructure to support 300 to 400 physical servers, several hundred virtual servers running ESX, and 300 Terabytes of storage across 13 different EMC arrays for 55,000 users, says Derek Masseth, senior director for infrastructure services at the University of Arizona.

“Our architecture was not going to meet our needs,” Masseth says, referring to the school’s current infrastructure of Cisco Catalyst 6500 switches and MDS 9500 directors in the SAN.

With that, the university installed three Nexus 7000s in the core and several Nexus 5010s at the top of server racks. The school also deployed FCoE converged network adapters on the servers with plans to employ FCoE up to the core Nexus switches, Masseth says.

University of Arizona realized a 50% reduction in capital expenditures and a 30% reduction in power consumption per port with the Nexus deployment, Masseth says. The school is not yet evaluating Cisco’s Unified Computing System to further tighten its server, storage, networking and virtualization environments but plans to give it a close look over the next year. The school is currently a Dell shop for its blade servers.

In the meantime, the school plans to decommission its Catalyst 6500 switches from the data center.

“We’d like to get to a pure Nexus data center,” Masseth says. “We have a very strong desire to be on a single platform.”

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