Cisco enhances Nexus 7000, boosts data center network scalability

With enhancements to the Nexus line, Cisco is offering more scalability and choice in the data center network than ever before.

With new Nexus data center network switches and components, Cisco Systems is offering monstrous scalability to its biggest enterprise customers and a new entry-level product for Catalyst 6500 customers who have been hesitant to rip and replace their legacy data center networks.

Cisco unveiled new components for its Nexus 7000 series of core chassis switches that boost the topline Nexus 7018 chassis to 15 Tbps of aggregate bandwidth. With the new Fabric-2 fabric module and the F2 line card, enterprises can effectively double the power of a Nexus chassis. The Fabric-2 module increases the bandwidth capacity of each slot in a Nexus 7000 from 230 Gbps to 550 Gbps. The Nexus 7018 can now support up to 768 wire speed, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports.

“This reduces the number of chassis you need to achieve massive scale,” said Mike Spanbauer, principal analyst with Current Analysis. “You can have two times the scale of Juniper’s QFabric offering for about 30% less [investment].”

By connecting a single, fully loaded Nexus 7018 chassis to Nexus 5500 switches in the access tier, Cisco customers can now support 12,288 10 GbE server ports. Spanbauer noted that most customers would of course deploy redundant chassis.

The new components also support Layer 2 and Layer 3 fowarding, whereas the fastest first-generation line cards for the Nexus 7000 only supported Layer 2. The Layer 3 support will allow enterprises to route traffic between servers with fewer hops.

“You’ve got a lot of complexities introduced with virtualization and multiple VLANs,” Spanbauer said. “Being able to route without having to up to another chassis, the Nexus 7000 can now be split up a lot of different ways. The ability to route locally on the line card eliminates the one extra process or hop. It’s just faster at the end of the day, and the gain is getting packets from point A to point B securely and as quickly as possible.”

Nexus 7009: An entry-level data center network chassis

Cisco also announced the long-awaited Nexus 7009 chassis, a smaller sibling to the existing Nexus 7010 and 7018 that will fit in existing Catalyst 6500 racks. The Nexus 7009 is a 14 Rack Unit (RU) chassis that can top out at 336 10 GbE ports with the new fabric modules and line cards. Until now, replacing the Catalyst 6509 with the larger Nexus devices was daunting to many customers who balked at the prospect of re-racking their entire data center just to create an adequate footprint for the Nexus 7010 or 7018. But the Nexus 7009 can replace the 6509 with  minimal disruption.

The Nexus 7009 offers a next-generation data center network entry point that is much more accessible to smaller companies, said Andre Kindness, senior research analyst with Forrester Research. He pointed out that Juniper’s QFabric architecture has a minimum entry price of $500,000 with a full deployment of edge QFX 35000 devices, a QF/Interconnect and a QF/Manager. Juniper has argued that the QFX 3500 edge devices can be used as server access switches in a standard data center network, allowing customers to realize the incremental benefits of the devices without a full investment in a QFabric architecture.

Meanwhile, Cisco is also marketing the Nexus 70009 as both a data center core switch for smaller customers and a campus core switch for companies that need high-density 10 GbE switching, according to Craig Huitema, Cisco’s director of data center solutions marketing.

Further expansions of the Nexus data center network line

Cisco announced two new versions of its ultra-low latency Nexus 3000 switch. Previously it had just the Nexus 3064, which had 64 low-latency 1/10 GbE ports. The new Nexus 3048 has 48 100 megabit/1 GbE ports, and the Nexus 3016 has 16 10/40 GbE ports.

The new Nexus 2248Tp-E fabric extender is a general purpose top-of-rack device that is optimized for specialized workloads that require extra buffering capacity. It features 32 MB buffers. Also, Cisco is adding FabricPath support to its Nexus 5500 boxes, which will allow enterprises to do very large-scale FabricPath data center fabrics with Nexus 7000 in the core and Nexus 5500 in the access layer, Huitema said.

Cisco vs. Juniper in the data center: Who wins?

From a speeds and feeds standpoint, Cisco has taken a lead over rival Juniper. A full deployment of Juniper’s QFabric architecture supports up to 6,144 10 GbE server ports, Spanbauer said. Yet Juniper’s QFabric architecture continues to offer manageability and operational advantages since QFabric customers can run their entire data center network as a single logical device, noted Kindness.

“With Cisco you have to manage the Nexus 7000 and anything downstream of that,” Kindness said.

Overall, the scalability of Nexus versus the manageability and elegance of QFabric tends to put the two vendors on more or less equal footing. However, Kindness noted that Cisco continues to have an edge because of its install base. Cisco claims that it has 19,000 Nexus customers and more than 500 customers are using FabricPath, its data center fabric technology that eliminates spanning tree protocols with a variation of Transparent Interconnections of Lots of Links (TRILL).  QFabric is still new to the market, with the full solution only hitting the market last month, and Juniper has no reference customers to offer prospects.

“[QFabric is] an elegant solution, but right now when I talk to [Forrester clients inquiring about QFabric] I tell them they’re going to be guinea pigs because I don’t have any customer references,” Kindness said. “When it comes to Cisco, at least I can tell them Cisco customers are happy. You can talk to Avaya and Brocade customers too. They are shipping solutions. There are no references to verify QFabric. There is nothing right now other than paper, and in the data center that is a risky proposition.”

QFabric will have those reference customers in a year or two, and that will put position Juniper as a bigger threat to Cisco, Kindness said. This prospect poses a serious threat to Cisco, which makes this new generation of Nexus scalability all the more important to its continued success in the data center network market.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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