Cloud enablement

Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) says it's going with a data-center fabric that outdoes Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR)'s QFabric in terms of scope.

Cisco says FabricPath -- its data-center fabric that uses the Trill protocol and operates on Layers 2 and 3 -- can support 12,288 10Gbit/s server connections in a one-hop network, as opposed to 6,144 for QFabric. In virtual terms, Cisco is saying its fabric looks like a single big switch that's twice as big as QFabric's single big switch.

The numbers are being backed up by new products Cisco is announcing Tuesday: The Fabric2 module for the Nexus 7000 enables theoretical density of 550Gbit/s per slot, and new line cards, called the F2 series, put 48 ports of 10Gbit/s Ethernet onto one slot.

FabricPath is being extended to the Nexus 5500. The 5000 line was developed by startup Nuova and therefore hasn't shared all features with the 7000s.

It's all part of a crowd of data-center announcements Cisco is rolling out on Tuesday:
  • Nexus 7009: A switch similar to the Nexus 7010 but built for side-to-side airflow, rather than front-to-back.
  • The Nexus 3016, with 16 ports of 40Gbit/s Ethernet, and the Nexus 3048, with 48 ports of Gigabit Ethernet.
  • The Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) 1000V, a firewall meant to go with the Nexus 1000V switch.

Why this matters
Naturally, Cisco wants to own the data-center fabric market, so it's coming out swinging against QFabric, which got a lot of attention last year. Don't forget, too, that rivals including Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) see Cisco's shift to Nexus switches as a chance to step in and grab customers.

On the PR side, Juniper has set up a lot of grand expectations behind QFabric, so it's logical for Cisco to counter with even grander expectations. (Light Reading has pinged Juniper for a response, but the company announces earnings Tuesday, so we'll see if they're game to answer.)

The "12,288" number might be pretty, but expect Cisco's marketing to lean heavily on the virtal machine Fabric Extender (VM-FEX) technology, which virtualizes the conections between network interface cards (NICs) and servers. The technology reaches down to individual virtual machines, something Cisco claims is unique.

For more
Further reading on fabrics:

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:51:04 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

Fabric2 is due to ship in November -- except in the case of the 7009, where it's shipping now.

The F2 cards with 48x10GE are due to ship in November.

alr 12/5/2012 | 4:51:02 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

And how long from Juniper's Qfabric announcement to shipping? Any real installations so far?


Will be nice to have a bake-off between these technologies, so we have an idea of what is really available today, and see if products match the marketing hype. Any idea how easy either technology is to manage?

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:51:01 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

From Juniper's earnings call: QFabric is shipping.  Customers include Thomson Reuters, Bell Canada, and one other that I didn't quite catch.

A bake-off would be interesting, although considering the scope of a "fabric," would it be difficult to come up with objective, fair tests?  (Maybe just let each side pick a couple of tests?)

The management side would be a little easier for a bake-off, I'd think, and might be more relevant to a lot of people. You wouldn't get stacks of nifty stats to kick around, though.

ACG Research released a paper on QFabric just recently.  I haven't had time to study it, but they're saying QFabric brings pretty strong power savings and cost savings.

prinformant 12/5/2012 | 4:51:01 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

Does anyone find it interesting (in a peculiar, lack of innovation way) that the 12,288 10Gbit/s server connections is EXACTLY twice Juniper's 6,144 for QFabric? Was there much thought put into this? What's your take?

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:51:00 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

OK, seriously -- I did find that odd. 

I haven't yet sat down with the companies to see how the numbers were derived, but my guess had been that 6,144 was the result of some combinatorics -- in which case it wouldn't seem right to have something bigger that comes out to exactly 2*6144.

But like I said, I haven't stepped through the calculations yet.  If anybody has, please do chime in.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:51:00 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

Maybe Cisco's double-counting.


raid 12/5/2012 | 4:51:00 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

Seems like 24 x 1G ports x 256.  Won't be surprised if the fabric underneath is all Broadcom chipset for both guys! 

Craig - can you describe the key features of either FabricPath or QFabric in a few concise sentances?  And compare/contrast each other and with OpenFlow.  Why would a customer prefer one of them.


Few parameters that I think about

- Open vs. Proprietary 

- Underlying key technologies

- Ability to Scale

- Simplicity (is the network layer getting simpler or more complex)

- Cost

- Distributed vs. Centralized Control






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Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:50:52 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

Hi Raid -- I dont' have all the answers on fabrics for you (and don't forget that the Brocade VDX is a contender too).&nbsp; But to sum up a few things in no particular order:

* FabricPath is based on Trill (Cisco calls it a superset of Trill).&nbsp; QFabric uses a proprietary protocol, but only on the inside. That is, switches and servers attach to QFabric via standard interfaces, and the internal fabric is proprietary.&nbsp; The situation is a lot like the proprietary line-side connections in optical networks; Juniper says it's no big deal and I'm inclined to agree.

* Cisco used its own ASICs here.&nbsp; Can't recall if Juniper has specified QFabric's chip makeup (&amp; I don't have time to look it up right now - anybody happen to remember offhand?)

* OpenFlow is just a protocol to let you program switch tables; it's not really related to all this.

* Scaling: Well, Cisco now claims to scale to 2x the size of a QFabric.

raid 12/5/2012 | 4:50:51 PM
re: Cisco Fires Back at QFabric

Craig -thanks for the answers

FabricPath: TRILL based Fabric Controller + Datapath

QFabric: Distributed Fabric Controller + Datapath

OpenFlow: Centralized "flow-based" Fabric Controller + Commodity datapath

All three are basically fabric controllers. Even if Cisco offers openflow, its not going to work with the TRILL mode (can use either one but not both). Plus, it'll end up competing with cheaper white-box switches using merchant silicon. Hence the comparison of the three.

Admittedly, OpenFlow is still very much a project in the academia. This scenario works if a start-up like Nicira builds a commercially viable product around openflow. Maybe an appliance that combines a VMWare Switch Controller + data-center Fabric Controller and uplinking to the aggregation network can reduce the opex/capex of L2/L3 datacenter network.


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