Cisco Revamps Data Center Infrastructure Offering With Eye On Cloud

Cisco on Wednesday unveiled a wide range of networking and storage switches, UCS equipment, and software aimed at unifying customers' entire data center infrastructures and helping prepare them for their step up into the cloud.

Cisco also outlined several changes to its channel program the company said would make it easier for its solution provider partners to tie the new infrastructure products to complete solutions.

The new hardware and software help cement Cisco's position as the premier provider of end-to-end data center infrastructure equipment, said Omar Sultan, senior manager for Cisco's data center architecture.

"We're in a different position when compared to our competitors," Sultan said. "We have a full product portfolio with a broad vision and the ability to execute against that vision."

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One of the bases of that vision is Cisco's Unified Fabric, which refers to the company's ability to provide end-to-end network convergence, Sultan said.

To help improve that convergence, Cisco introduced two new series of Nexus data center switches along with enhanced connectivity and management capabilities across a wide range of its data center networking product line.

The company unveiled the Nexus 5548UP 48-port and Nexus 5596UP 96-port data center switches with unified port capability. These two switches not only increase the port count over previous models, they also allow customers to configure every one of the ports for Gbit Ethernet, 10-Gbit Ethernet, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE), or 8-Gbit Fibre Channel, Sultan said.

Cisco in the second half of 2011 plans to add its FabricPath technology to its Nexus 5000 switches. FabricPath is a scalable virtual networking technology that combines networking Layer 2 flexibility and Layer 3 scalability to allow virtual machine portability across an entire network. It is Cisco's subset of the proposed TRILL (Transparent Interconnect of Lots of Links) protocol, Sultan said.

Also new are the Cisco Nexus 3000 Series switches which provide low latency of less than 1 microsecond from port-to-port in a high-density 10-Gbit Ethernet environment. The Nexus 3000 switches are designed for high-performance computing environments running high-speed financial and other applications, he said.

For its Nexus 7000 Series switches, Cisco is adding the ability to support up to 1,500 Gbit Ethernet or 1,000 10-Gbit Ethernet ports. The company is also adding new Layer 3 VPN capabilities. The enhancements are scheduled to ship next quarter, Sultan said.

Cisco introduced two new enhancements to its fabric extender technology (FEX). FEX technology is a series of 1U appliances which let a parent Nexus switch provide a scalable unified server-access platform across a range of Ethernet and blade server environments.

The first enhancement, Adapter FEX, allows a single physical network interface card (NIC) to be split into multiple NICs, making it easier to utilize existing NICs to manage applications in virtualized environments.

The second enhancement, VM-FEX, extends the switching fabric to connect directly to server hypervisors in virtualized environments in order to consolidate virtual and physical access layers into a single point of management, Sultan said.

Cisco is also enhancing end-to-end network convergence from servers to storage with the addition of multi-hop FCoE capabilities to its Nexus 7000 and Nexus 5000 data center switches and its MDS 9500 storage switches.

Multi-hop FCoE allows up to seven "hops" or connections between the storage host and target, compared to typical FCoE technology which provides only a single hop, Sultan said. "This allows you to move your convergence point closer to the SAN," he said.

Next: Helping Prepare Data Centers For The Cloud

To help prepare customers' data center infrastructures for cloud services, Cisco is preparing to implement the Locator/Identifier Separation Protocol (LISP).

LISP breaks the connection between the identity of a user of a workload and that user's location, making it possible to move workloads regardless of where the user is located, Sultan said. For instance, in follow-the-Sun applications which move from data center to data center over the course of a day, LISP will allow a workload to move while maintaining the same IP address so that users can find it wherever it is, he said. LISP also enables workloads to move to and from the cloud without breaking the IP address, he said.

For its Catalyst 6500 storage switches, Cisco is introducing several new modules including new ACE-30 for dynamic workload balancing, the ASA Service Module firewall appliance, and the ES-50 module with the DCI (Data Center Interconnect) interconnect to allow 40-Gbit bandwidth between two 6500s, Sultan said.

On the server side, Cisco is upgrading its Cisco UCS (Unified Computing System), which combines networking, blade servers, storage, core switching, routing, security, and voice over IP (VoIP) into a single architecture.

The company introduced a new blade server, the UCS C260 M2, which features two sockets for the Intel Westmere-EX processors, up to 1 TB of memory, and up to 16 SSDs or hard drives totaling up to 9.6 TBs of storage capacity. The UCS C260 M2 is targeted at OLTP (online transaction processing) and data warehousing applications, Sultan said.

Cisco is also updating its UCS C460 M2, UCS B440 M2, and UCS B230 M2 servers with the Westmere-EX processors.

For solution providers, Cisco is offering new promotions and enhancing its channel program to go with the new unified data center offerings, said Dave Gronner, senior manager of worldwide channels for data center technologies at Cisco.

In the second half of 2011, Cisco plans to offer a new data center and cloud accelerator promotion which provides solution providers additional backend rebates on incremental deals, Gronner said. The company will also increase the backend rebate for incremental data center solutions sold into registered deals. Gronner declined to specify the amount of the additional rebates.

Cisco also introduced a new remote data center and virtualization lab that allows channel partners to log in with customers to play with and demonstrate the new solutions, Gronner said.

"Not every partner can restructure its own labs for a new demo," he said. "Partners can run their own labs. But we're giving them the benefit of a large environment which they don't need to run on their own."

Cisco is also providing its partners with new tools to do data center assessments for customers. These tools, which go beyond those which Cisco has offered for years for network assessments, let solution providers to do an inventory analysis of data center equipment and identify potential issues related to latency, gaps, or CPUs, Gronner said.

"These assessments are one of the most powerful ways for partners to identify issues and help customers solve them," he said.

Finally, Cisco is introducing complete data center marketing campaigns that partners can use, Gronner said. These "campaigns-in-a-box" include all the collateral solution providers need to develop their campaigns, and within the next two months will encompass all the new products released unveiled on Wednesday, he said.