Cisco boosted its cloud networking portfolio this week with a new Nexus 6000 series switch, its first software-defined networking controller and Nexus 1000v-based software, which lets customers establish hybrid cloud networks.
The Nexus 6000 is a fixed-configuration switch series with high-density 10 and 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) capacity that is less expensive and has a more streamlined feature set than the Nexus 7000. Cisco is positioning the new switches as an ideal backbone for a scaled-out, leaf-spin architecture that is increasingly popular in cloud networks.
"The Nexus 7000 is the Swiss Army knife of switches," said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. "It's got every feature that Cisco has on the network side. It's meant for environments that need all those services. The Nexus 6000 is more of a streamlined feature set. For example, it has no MPLS [multiprotocol label switching ] support. It has a ton of capacity. It's meant for generic, high-speed switching, where you don't need a lot of features."
The Nexus 6000 comes in two configurations. The Nexus 6001, available in the second quarter of this year, is a one-rack-unit switch with 48x10 GbE and 4x40 GbE ports. The Nexus 6004, available this quarter, is a four rack-unit switch with 48x40 GbE line rate ports with four expansion modules. It can also operate with up to 384x10 GbE ports. If connected to Cisco's Nexus 2000 fabric extender devices, a single nexus 6004 can support up to 1,536x10 GbE ports.
The Nexus 6000 can support up to 75,000 virtual machines (VMs), and it offers 1 microsecond of port-to-port latency.
"Nexus 7000s are expensive and they are filled with all kinds of things that maybe you don't need," said Dan O'Hanlon, director of West Virginia Network (WVNET), a public network provider for that state's government and educational institutions.
As O'Hanlon's team evaluates technology for a new data center, he'll consider the Nexus 6000, alongside the Nexus 7000, as a simpler and cheaper alternative. Specifically, O'Hanlon is looking for a fabric that is cost-efficient, doesn't eat up energy costs in the data center, and isn't complicated with multiple points of failure like the Nexus 7000, he said.
"If it's going to be the backplane of your data center, you want to minimize the points of failure," O'Hanlon explained.
The Nexus 6004 also has a 100 GbE roadmap via the four expansion modules, which is also important to O'Hanlon. "Everyone is looking at migrating to 100 Gigabit," he said.
Ultimately, though, the appeal of the Nexus 6000 will depend on how well it supports OpenFlow, O'Hanlon said.
"I clearly think OpenFlow and OpenStack and SDN [software-defined networking] are going to be more and more important as time goes by, and I don't want to lock myself into something that doesn't play well in the sandbox with OpenFlow. That might even be a deal killer to me," he said. "I want to put [Openflow] in there, and I want to put onePK in there. I need to be able to abstract the control plane out from the network and evolve it in software to meet the kinds of challenges that are coming at a state Internet service provider like WVNET."
The Nexus 6001 will ship in March, starting at $48,000. The Nexus 6004 is available now, starting at $90,000.
Cisco also announced several other new elements of the Nexus switching family, including the Nexus 2248PQ fabric extender, the first model of its kind that offers 10 GbE top-of-rack ports and 40 GbE uplinks. Plugged into a series of Nexus 2248PQs, a Nexus 6004 can power 1,536 oversubscribed 10 GbE ports. Cisco announced a 40 GbE uplink expansion module for the Nexus 5500 and a Network Analysis Module for the Nexus 7000, the first in a series of service modules that Cisco plans to release for the flagship Nexus switch.
Nexus 1000v InterCloud enables hybrid cloud networking
Cisco's new Nexus 1000v InterCloud software extends its Nexus 1000v virtual switching technology to automatically link and manage across on-premises and cloud provider networks. With this technology, an enterprise can connect a service chain for an application between its own data center and a cloud provider's data center. Nexus 1000v InterCloud connects the management domains of multiple Layer 2 environments.
"You could do some similar things with manually configured VPNs, but doing them manually wouldn't give you the same service chain capabilities," said Eric Hanselman, research director with London-based 451 Research. "It's a way of combining chunks of cloud together and bringing it under a Nexus 1000v management umbrella."
Automating the connection of service chains among cloud environments is important to WVNET, which is moving toward becoming a cloud provider, O'Hanlon said.
"A lot of these things are very labor-intensive. Any part of that which you can automate would be a real game changer for us," he said. Today, moving a VM or setting up firewall policies across hybrid clouds is a difficult manual task.
"You can't just pick it up and drag and drop it right now."
Cisco ONE Controller: OpenFlow and onePK support
Cisco also announced a commercial version of its software-defined networking controller. Available this summer, the Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE) Controller will ship with so-called southbound interface support for both OpenFlow and Cisco's proprietary One Platform Kit (onePK) API and SDK set. On the northbound side, the controller will have RESTful and Java-based APIs and will add more APIs as customers dictate, said Omar Sultan, senior manager for emerging technology in Cisco's data center group.
Cisco has also designed its controller with a modular architecture, "so as the industry evolves and calls for specific functions in the body of the controller, it is easy for [our controller] to absorb that functionality," Sultan said. Security and management are areas where new functions might emerge for the controller, he said.
A controller that interacts with network devices either via onePK or Openflow reflects Cisco's general view about software-defined networking, said Hanselman of 451 Research.
"OpenFlow is a very low-level interface where you're simply stuffing new entries into forwarding tables," he said. "OnePK presumes that more of the work of determining path is going to take place within the networking gear itself, especially when you start looking at sophisticated functions like multicast processing. Cisco's vision is not to head toward full lobotomization of network equipment. They want to provide ways to leverage capabilities that exist in that equipment."
O'Hanlon, whose WVNET is a Cisco network, will evaluate the Cisco ONE Controller. "I want it to be as open as it can be. I know this onePK thing is proprietary, and I understand that. But I would really like them to support some kind of open spec or open standard for interoperability … because we don’t know what's coming down the road. People might have a mix of things they're trying to do, and the more open a thing is, the more interoperability there will be. It would just be nice if vendors could get together and agree to an open spec and write to that open spec so that things can interoperate. Data center people don't have time to go out and write an API every time."
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