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Cisco Fabric Extenders May Make Top-Of-Rack Switches Obsolete

The company's latest Nexus products could help companies significantly cut back on operational expenses and time spent on switch-related tasks in the data center.

Nexus 2000 Series Fabric Extender

Nexus 2000 Series Fabric Extender
(click for larger image)

Cisco on Tuesday introduced a new series of devices, the Nexus 2000 Series Fabric Extenders, which replace switches that sit atop a rack of servers in a data center.

These new devices are analogous to thin clients, in that they get their marching orders from a larger switch and have little inherent intelligence themselves. And they could transform data center architectures by allowing organizations to do away with standard top-of-rack switches altogether.

The devices, which Cisco refers to as "rack switch extenders," play a role not unlike that of line cards in a switch chassis. In this case, the extender simply pushes all of its traffic toward an end-of-row Nexus 5000 switch, which handles all traffic management (including of features like security and quality of service), configuration, and troubleshooting and switches the traffic elsewhere in the data center.

That could help companies significantly cut back on operational expenses and time spent on switch-related tasks in the data center. In an era of virtualization and cloud computing, data centers are growing larger and more complex. With more top-of-rack switches, there's more to manage.

With Cisco's fabric extenders, however, instead of having to upgrade 10 or 100 switches when there's a need to patch software, a network admin can simply upgrade once at the larger aggregation switch. And instead of having to upgrade all top-of-rack hardware when a new important technology comes along, companies can buy one new module or switch out the larger aggregation switch at the end of the row.

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