Cisco's Nexus Targets Data Center's Future
In possibly its biggest product launch in four years, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is unveiling its long-awaited follow-up to the Catalyst line of switches today, combining Ethernet and storage networking with an eye toward data center trends such as virtualization and faster switching speeds.
The ambitious new platform, named Nexus, is a stab at high-end Ethernet players such as Force10 Networks Inc. , Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY), and Woven Systems Inc. Cisco says it will outdo them, as Nexus will eventually reach 15 Tbit/s in switching density -- 7.5 Tbit/s each for the ingress and egress paths -- and 512 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports per system.
Nexus will also incorporate storage switching, taking a bit of a swipe at Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) and its Data Center Fabric strategy. (See Brocade Unveils Backbone Switch and Brocade Outlines Server/Storage Fabric.)
But the storage capabilities are yet to come: Cisco is basing its platform on Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE), which won't be added to Nexus until that standard is complete. (See Storage Must Wait for Cisco's Data Center Vision .)
Perhaps more important, Nexus is aimed at the trend of virtualization in the data center, and it packs features to accommodate the kind of reliability that storage networking needs.
Nexus's arrival doesn't mean Catalyst and the storage-switching MDS line are doomed. Cisco says it has plans for all three in "Data Center 3.0," a phrase the company has been tossing around since August.
Even though customers have to wait for FCOE and other important features -- a lossless version of Ethernet being standardized for data centers, for instance -- the impact of Cisco's new switch shouldn't be underestimated, analysts say.
"It's their biggest announcement since CRS-1," says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with Yankee Group Research Inc. (See Cisco Unveils the HFR.)
Nexus is big enough to at least temporarily stymie the competition, says analyst Nick Lippis of Lippis Enterprises.
"Cisco made a huge commitment here," he says. "Without Nexus, Force10 would have had a good IPO story this year. Now, investment bankers will pause."
The announcement comes one day before a Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) press and analyst event in New York City, where that company is expected to unveil its own big-deal data center switch. (See Cisco, Juniper Ready Data Center Assault.)
When queried about this, Cisco adopts a nonchalant approach. "Interesting timing, isn't it?" says Deepak Munjal, marketing manager for Cisco's data center team. (A Cisco spokeswoman says the product had been planned for a January 29 release, but was pushed up by one day.)
Yet another OS
As with its CRS-1 router, Cisco is eager to show how big an effort Nexus has been. The platform took four years and $250 million to develop, requiring contributions from more than 500 engineers. Its innards include some technology from Cisco's MDS line of storage gear, and even some IP routing knowhow from Procket Networks, the core-routing startup Cisco acquired in 2004. (See Cisco to Pay $89M for Procket Assets.)
"No other company really has the resources and the intellectual property in the networking and storage spaces to match that," Lippis says of Cisco's effort.
Nexus also sports a new operating system, something Cisco says the team insisted on from the beginning. Yes, that means having yet another operating system to support, in addition to the different trains of the Internetwork Operating System (IOS) out there, the SAN-OS that runs the MDS gear, and the modular IOS-XR.
"We realized we're making a tradeoff here, but the reality is, when you look at data center requirements like lossless Ethernet, all of those necessitated more of a new design," Munjal says.
It had to be done, Kerravala says. "All new OSs take time to mature, but that probably had to happen to bring the new functionality in."
NX-OS, as the operating system is called, does borrow from IOS and SAN-OS, and it's based on a modular architecture like Cisco's IOS XR.
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