News: Cisco to introduce a Chassis Nexus

Things have been very busy at Cisco today in addition to the new rack mounted version of there UCS server.  The networking giant and recent entrant in the server market, Cisco Systems announced that will be working with third-party blade server makers to create a version of its Nexus family of switches that tuck inside non-Cisco blades.  What hold the press,  what does this mean,  well the details are a bit sketchy, Cisco have made no mention of the Blade vendor but no prizes for a guess :D.But today, during a Webcast discussing its unified server-storage fabric efforts, Ed Chapman, vice president of product management at Cisco’s Server Access and Virtualization Group, said that the company would be soon rolling out a variant of the Nexus 5000 top-of-rack converged switch that would fit inside of a third-party blade chassis called the Nexus 4000, and that was it, he didn’t say much else about the device.
Now the basic idea must be to shrink the Nexus 5000 so it can handle the 10, 14, or 16 blades in a chassis offered by the likes of Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell, and others as a direct replacement for the vendors own switches,  now this is not a revolutionary as it first appears.  Cisco have been making blade switches for the major Blade providors for a good few years.   However, this is a direct attempt to steal the network edge.

We all know the Nexus 5000 switch is the switch that handles server and storage traffic (using the Fibre Channel over Ethernet, or FCoE, protocol) all on the same device. There is a variant of this Nexus 5000, called the Nexus UCS 6100 Series Fabric Interconnect which adds the Cisco UCS Manager for the “California” Unified Computing System, which manages blade severs and switching between servers and the outside world and their access to storage, however to get the full benefit of the Nexus experience you need an end to end solution, and in the case of none USC environments this is not possible due to the piggy in the middle of a legacy Cisco Blade Switch or a vendor specific solution like the vConnect modules from Blade Technologies.

By producing the Nexus 4000 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches, Cisco is able curry favour with the server makers it has alienated a bit with the California boxes, and provide the end to end Nexus experience, further it will may allow the blade server makers to interface with the Cisco switches whilst maintaining control of the management of the blades and switches inside the chassis – which is what those server makers who do not have there own switching technology actually desire.

What Cisco and its partners will be touting the ability of the Nexus 4000 to do plain-old high bandwidth, low-latency computing. Chapman said that the unified switch ASIC used in the Nexus 4000 would be able to deliver a latency of around 1.6 microseconds, which is fast enough for high performance computing and other latency sensitive jobs. (But by no means the lowest latency switches available today running at 10 GE speeds, mind you.)

The Nexus 4000 have 10 GE ports for both uplinks and downlinks and will use the same Nexus OS operating system used in the MDS 9000 Fibre Channel switches and the Nexus 7000 end of row, Nexus 5000 top of rack, and Nexus 6100 California switches. It is also expected to have fault tolerant features and work seamless with the Nexus 1000V virtual switch that Cisco has created in conjunction with VMware to run inside of an ESX Server 4.0 virtual machine.

According to a Cisco spokesperson, Cisco will be working with the unnamed blade server makers to cook up Nexus 4000 switches that are paired with their specific blade servers and chassis, watch out for annoucement from the server makers about their plans in the coming weeks.

Back to the Webcast, which was unfortunately a cheer-leading session for unified fabrics and unified computing, Rajiv Ramaswami, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Data Center Switching Technology Group, reminded everyone that Cisco did not think for a second that Fibre Channel connectivity itself was dead, an interesting comment as FCoE is not yet an end to end technology. Cisco expects that some customers to need (or at least want) un-converged Fibre Channel switches for years to come.  personally I think that the term Some should actucally read many at the moment,  there is a good saying “pioneers are the ones that get the arrows in the hat”  I have lived by this for a long time.

As an adjunct to that statement, Ramaswami said that Cisco is working on 16 Gb/sec Fibre Channel links for its MDS 9000 family of switches and the Nexus 5000 will receive an upgrade for 4Gb FC to 8Gb modules. Again in typical Cisco style the exact timing of these upgrades was not revealed. Ramaswami further added that Cisco was cooking up Fibre Channel over Ethernet modules for the MDS 9000 and Nexus 7000 switches, allowing for end-to-end use of the FCoE protocol for companies that want to do that, and would be cooking up legacy support for 100 Mbit and 1 Mbit links in the fabric extenders for the Nexus 5000 switches so they could link to older server kit that does not have Gigabit Ethernet ports. The Nexus 5000 switch will also get a 10 GE FCoE fabric extender, and the Nexus 7000 is slated for some kind of fabric extender support as well (but the speeds were not revealed).  this is all good stuff and very welcome, but Cisco is starting to sound like a vapour-ware company with all the road-map details that are coming out of HQ at the moment.

Almost as a final throw away comment it was stated that VMware and Cisco were working on the development and testing of long-distance VMotion for the ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and its related vSphere 4.0 tools.  That said for those of you who were are VMworld this is not really news.

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