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Cisco punts massive Nexus 7000 switch

'Data Center 3.0' initiative gets rolling

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Cisco is selling a new obscenely large switch, tapped as the lynchpin of its "Data Center 3.0" virtualization initiative the company has been gabbing about for months

The Nexus 7000 is the biggest switch from Cisco yet, according to the company's data center senior director, Doug Gourlay. It's also tapped as the eventual heir to what has been the company's bread and butter, the Catalyst 6500 switch.

But for this new incarnation of Cisco gear, the company is clearly focused on virtualization. The Nexus is designed for simultaneously forwarding storage, Ethernet and IP traffic by virtualizing network interface cards and host bus adapters rather than requiring separate cards for SAN and LAN.

The chassis holds a maximum of 512 ports using 10Gb/s Ethernet modules, or 768 ports using 1Gb/s Ethernet modules. Throughput can reach over 15Tb/s, according to Cisco. The box is also compatible with upcoming 40- and 100Gb/s Ethernet technology when it arrives.

Cisco is rolling out a new operating system for Nexus — appropriately named "Nexus Operating System", or NX-OS. Based on Cisco's SAN-OS, the new operating system puts Layer 2 switching, Layer 3 routing protocols, and virtualization into a single control pane along with traffic management and security capabilities. According to Gourlay, NX-OS can do system upgrades and process restarts when an error is detected without service disruption.

Cisco's vision of increasing the scope the switch is one shared by its its rival, Brocade. But while their goal is similar, their methodology differs when it comes to physical cabling. Last week, Brocade released its DCX Backbone, the cornerstone to the company's comparable switch virtualization push.

Brocade is relying on 8Gb/s Fibre Channel to physically connect to servers. Virtual Ethernet is used to connect to its virtual servers.

Reversely, Cisco doesn't intend to ever support Fibre Channel directly. Although servers can see a virtual Fibre Channel SAN, it uses Ethernet cable for physical connections.

Brocade says it may move to Ethernet later, but will stick to the less lossy Fibre Channel protocol for the time being. Cisco meanwhile is betting on the adoption of lossless E and Fibre Channel over Ethernet standards.

But Cisco does seem to be aiming its box at the future. According to Gourlay, the company isn't expecting a replacement of hardware for the Nexus, but gradual adoption as new data centers are constructed or expanded. Actual company deployment will probably take around three to four years from now with testing and certification. And Cisco isn't abandoning the Catalyst 6500 yet. It's also unveiled a new 16-port 10Gb/s Ethernet module for the Catalyst, which will ship in the second quarter.

The Nexus 7000 switch starts at around $75,000, says Cisco — although an actual data center configuration will be about $200,000. It's available for order now and will be generally available in the second quarter. ®

Completely Unrelated Bootnote

Data centre. There, I said it.

You should probably blame Noah Webster or Cisco or both for the whole "data center" thing. Certainly not the US-based Reg hack who is merely a victim of a nation's attempt to rationalize some of the illogical spelling in the English language. There aren't a lot of us on the team here, but oh, how we suffer!

What I'm getting at dear readers, is to plead you grant me safe harbour from your grammatical vitriol. Lest I give up vowels completely.

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