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Cisco expanded its line of data center switches in the lead-up to Interop Las Vegas, launching two Nexus 9500 chassis and a high-density 40 Gigabit Ethernet Nexus 3100 switch.
The Nexus 9516 is a 16-slot chassis that can support 576 40 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports or 2,304 10 GbE ports. The Nexus 9504 is a four-slot chassis that can support 144 40 GbE ports or 576 10 GbE ports. Late last year, Cisco debuted the Nexus 9500 series with an eight-slot model. These two new switches fill out the product family with a range of options for data center cores or spines.
Like all Nexus 9000 switches, the Nexus 9504 and 9516 can participate in Application-Centric Infrastructure (ACI), Cisco's software-defined networking architecture that uses a central controller to define network behavior for specific applications. The devices can also function as traditional data center switches.
The expansion of the Nexus 9500 line further divides Cisco's array of data center core switches. Cisco's flagship line of Nexus 7000 switches, which debuted in 2008, remains a widely used platform in enterprises, and last year the company introduced the Nexus 7700 line as a next-generation high-density 40 and 100 GbE chassis. It can support 384 40 GbE or 192 100 GbE ports. The 7700 had only been on the market four months when Cisco introduced its first Nexus 9500. While the Nexus 9500 series is designed to operate in Cisco's ACI SDN architecture, it also can fill many of the roles customer might have for the Nexus 7000 and 7700 series, which creates some confusion among network engineers.
"Cisco would obviously like the vast majority of their customers to move to ACI [and Nexus 9500], but look at Cisco's history. During these periods of transition, they have a couple of irons in the fire, insurance policies," said Brad Casemore, research director for Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. "There is some understandable confusion resulting from the fact that [Nexus 9500s, 7700s and 7000s represent], in many respects, parallel paths. They're going to have to keep Nexus 7000 customers happy. Many are taking a wait-and-see approach."
Cisco also expanded its Nexus 3000 series with the Nexus 3164Q, a two-rack unit switch with 64 40 GbE ports. Although the 3164Q is not part of Cisco's ACI SDN, the company is touting it as a highly programmable switch, with a Linux container and support for XML, JSON, Puppet, Chef, Python and OpenStack.
The level of programmability on the Nexus 3164Q reflects a shift in how switch vendors are competing for the affections of network engineers, at least those employed in advanced data centers, said Andre Kindness, senior analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.
"Six months ago, they were just talking about barely supporting OpenFlow. But now you have this, you're throwing Puppet and Chef and Python in there. It's not a speeds-and-feeds race anymore. It's a programmability-and-features race," Kindness said. "It's about who has the most programmable interfaces."
Outside the context of ACI, Cisco touts the Nexus 3164Q -- as well as the 9500 series -- as building blocks for high-performance data centers. "We find that the Nexus 3000 and 9000 series are often placed together in a lot of mega-scale data centers, but also in a lot of enterprise data centers," said Ishmael Limkakeng, vice president of marketing for Cisco.