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Cisco bulks up data center switching

Cisco Systems Inc. today made significant announcements in its data center switching line: an 8-port, 10 GigE module; a blade switch for Fujitsu Siemens; and a Web-based script-sharing community.

Networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. today announced a string of new products to bolster its play in the data center space, another step toward making Cisco not just a networking vendor but a one-stop-shop for all IT needs.

Cisco has had a keen eye to driving change in the data center, and the goal of today's announcements, according to the company's Marie Hattar, senior director, Network Systems, is to enable more scalable architectures, easier operational manageability and comprehensive resilience.

For enterprise network managers, Cisco's data center focus brings advanced capabilities to meet the growing demands that the network places on the data center and introduces a greater level of interoperability between the networking and computing layers.

"I think for users and network managers, this announcement let's them know that Cisco is committed to the data center switching," said Cindy Borovick, IDC's director of data center networks. "Cisco is meeting the overall demands of the data center, such as reducing power consumption, leveraging automation and enabling the network to meet the performance demands of new multi-core virtualized servers."

The latest offerings are built around Cisco's Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) data center framework to deploy and manage server, storage, computing and network resources.

The first new product, a data center-optimized, 8-port, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) module for the Catalyst 6500 Series switches, delivers a 60% increase in local switching performance. The offering lowers 10 GigE price-per-port by roughly 30%.

According to Hattar, the 8-port, 10 GigE module increases architectural scalability of the Catalyst 6500 and adds to the platform's manageability and resilience. Typically deployed in the data center, distribution and core layers of the network, the module can enable server aggregation, LAN access uplink aggregation, and connectivity within the core, where high-density 10 GigE is necessary.

Bahman Koohestani, CIO of Orbitz Worldwide, the online travel Web site and a brand of Travelport Inc., said Orbitz turned to Cisco for the Catalyst 6500 with Network Analysis Modules and 10 GigE modules because its previous switch vendor had become unreliable.

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Although Koohestani wouldn't name the previous vendor, he said the infrastructure was bandwidth-focused but caused Web site outages and suspended online sales, and often slowed the company's future business expansion plans.

"Basically, it caused the network core to not be available," he said. "As a global e-commerce business, we rely heavily on the network. Every second costs us money."

Orbitz had the Cisco gear in testing for four months, then in production for two. Koohestani said that, so far, he's noticed 99.999% reliability.

"Comparing Cisco to the vendor we were using before, [Cisco] is much more suitable," he said. "It lets us focus more on our own [business] problems [rather] than worrying about the debugging of the switch code."

Koohestani said the greater operational manageability gives his staff more time to develop new applications and services, the resilience keeps the online business running around the clock, and network scalability easily supports thousands of servers, which are growing at 40% per year, without adding more IT resources.

Tony Armatys, Orbitz's senior network engineer, said growth of the company played an extremely important role in the decision to deploy 10 GigE in the data center.

"We needed the bandwidth," he said. "As business is increasing, we needed a more robust architecture in the center so we could grow with it."

Along with the 10 GigE module, Cisco today introduced the Cisco Catalyst Blade Switch 3040 for the Fujitsu Siemens Computers PIMERGY Series Blade Server chassis. Cisco already offers the Catalyst Blade Switch 3000 Series for Dell and HP, along with the GigE Switch Module for the HP p-Class BladeSystem and the Intelligent Gigabit Ethernet Switch Module for IMB e-server BladeCenter.

Yankee Group vice president Zeus Kerravala said the latest offerings will boost Cisco's presence in the data center, a space that the vendor has fallen into more or less by accident.

"As a company, Cisco has never had a really strong data center strategy," he said. "As a networking company, they've just kind of found themselves there."

He said the release of an 8-port, 10 GigE module and a blade switch creates "a tighter integration between the networking layer and the computing layer," enabling better interoperability for users. Over the next few years, Kerravala believes, a trend will emerge where data centers will see more of a coming together of both layers.

As business is increasing, we needed a more robust architecture in the center so we could grow with it.
Tony Armatys
Senior Network EngineerOrbitz Worldwide
Still, he said, 10 GigE is not yet living up to the hype surrounding it, mostly because users are turned off by the high costs involved.

"You'll see customers upgrading Gigabit to the desk first and then to 10 Gig in the data center," he said. "There's a lot of interest, but it's costly." Kerravala added that as the price-per-port of 10 GigE decreases, more users will adopt, but at the same time, the optics are still pricey.

By introducing a new blade server, Cisco also adds a level of interoperability between the network and computing layers, Kerravala said.

"There are a lot of Cisco shops that use other things Cisco specific, and this is sort of the meeting point between them," he said. "You want it to interoperate with Cisco gear."

Finally, Cisco today released an online scripting community called Cisco Beyond, which lets customers share event-driven scripts and device-management best practices. The community can help network managers boost manageability, control and resiliency for Cisco switches and routers that support Cisco IOS Embedded Event Manager (EEM) technology. EEM is a device and system management technology integrated into specific Cisco switches and routers. It helps users rein in the network intelligence of Cisco IOS and customize behavior based on network events as they occur.

Cisco Beyond is a Web-based file-sharing system that allows users, partners and others to download and share EEM scripts, with the goal of helping other users. Experienced users can share their knowledge while learning some "tips and tricks" from others.

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