Cisco to Make Nexus Converged Switches for Blades
October 5, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
If IBM is your blade server vendor of choice and Cisco Systems is your preferred switch vendor, then it looks like there’s a chance that these two companies are going to be working together to create a line of Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) switches for BladeCenter blade servers.
Last week, Cisco announced that it was going to be shrinking down its Nexus 5000 line of 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches, which can handle plain old Ethernet traffic between servers and the outside world as well as Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) traffic over the same 10 GE switch, to create a new product family called the Nexus 4000. Cisco didn’t say much about the feeds and speeds of this forthcoming product line, except that it was working with the key blade server vendors to make Nexus 4000s for their blade chasses. With Hewlett-Packard and IBM having the number one and number two positions in blade server sales–and the vast majority of sales–it is fairly certain that Cisco and IBM are working together to bring FCoE-enabled 10 GE switches to the BladeCenter as well as to HP’s BladeSystem machines. (If not, both Cisco and IBM are being truly stupid. Which happens sometimes when vendors compete and cooperate at the same time.)
Cisco said in its announcement that the forthcoming Nexus 4000 switches would have a low latency of 1.6 microseconds, making it suitable for supercomputer clusters as well as for generic uses in the data center. (Believe it or not, 10 GE switches from Arista Networks are getting down into the 600 nanosecond latency range, which is six-tenths of a microsecond.) Sources at Cisco told me that the uplinks and downlinks in these Nexus 4000 switches would all be running at 10 GE speeds, and that blade server makers would be making announcements in the next few weeks.
The switch and router giant also said that it would be adding FCoE support to its MDS 9000 Fibre Channel switches, allowing servers with FCoE-enabled adapter cards to link into the existing FC switches; the Nexus 7000 monster core switches from Cisco, which sit at the end of rows of servers generally and which act as backbones for the corporate network, are also getting FCoE support so Fibre Channel chatter from SANs can be sent over the backbone. (Think about this as a possibility for disaster recovery.) The Nexus 5000 top-of-rack switches are going to be equipped with Ethernet fabric extenders that can plug into 100 Mbit and 1 Mbit Ethernet ports, bringing legacy servers into the Nexus world Cisco is trying to sell. Cisco is also working on an 8 Gb/sec Fibre Channel expansion module for the Nexus 5000s so the back-end of the switch can talk faster to SANs, and said that because Fibre Channel would still be used by plenty of companies to link to SANs for a long time, it would be adding 16 Gb/sec modules for the MDS 9000 switches, too.
Just because Cisco wants to beat IBM, HP, Dell, and Sun Microsystems in the blade server racket with its “California” Unified Computing System B-Series blades and their companion C-Series rack servers doesn’t mean it can ignore making switches for other blade and rack platforms. If Cisco doesn’t partner with these server players, rest assured, Blade Network Technologies, Voltaire, HP, Juniper Networks, Arista Networks, Mellanox, Force 10 Networks, Fujitsu, and others will be happy to.