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Cisco Counters HP Data Center Refresh

It may sound like a bad Project Runway follow-on, but data center network architects should prepare themselves for "fabric wars." Of course we're not talking that kind of fabric, we're talking about switching fabrics. Just a few weeks ago, HP announced sweeping additions to its data center switches, aimed at providing more bandwidth, more 10 Gbps Ethernet (GE) port density, and better support for leading virtualization environments. But while HP may have gotten off the first shot in this round of the fabric war, Cisco has answered in a big way, with even higher port density and extensive enhancements to its own virtualization support products.

The top-end Nexus 7000 gets a new high-end switch and new higher speed fabric that supports data rates up to 550 Gbps per slot. That higher slot performance enabled Cisco to produce a 48 port 1/10 GE line card. Cisco says the new card consumes less than 10 watts per port. Fully populate a Nexus 7018 with that new line card, and you'll get a total of 768 1/10 GE ports at a cost of less than $1,200 per port. That's impressive, but it'd be hard to call a switch costing north of $900,000 cheap.

A new member of the 7000 family, the 7009, is smaller than the 7010 (14 U vs. 21U) comes with the updated fabric, and sports front-to-back air handling rather than side-to-side. These products are intended for the very large data centers, in very large corporations and service providers.

Cisco has also introduced new members of its Nexus 3000 family, which it describes as its ultra-low latency line, intended for such applications as high-speed trading. These cut-through switches are fixed configuration systems. Cisco's added to both the high end and low end of the line. The 3016 is Cisco's first switch to support 40 Gbps Ethernet, with 16 10/40 GE ports. On the low end, the Nexus 3048 is 48 port 100M/1 GE switch. Cisco sees the 3000 as ideal for environments intended for "big data" processing, an application where Arista Networks has seen success.

[ Check The Other HP / Cisco battle: Stack Wars. ]

On the security side, Cisco announced a virtual version of its Adaptive Security Appliance. The ASA 1000V is intended for multi-tenant cloud environments. Cisco says that it's sold over a million ASA appliances, so the 1000V brings a familiar product to virtualized environments.

Other enhancements from Cisco include fabric support for VMware's vSphere 5, and intent to support Windows Server 8 and the next generation if Hyper-V. Cisco's FabricPath will now support more than 12,000 10 GE connected servers, and managed as a single networked environment. Cisco says that bests Juniper by a 2-to-1 margin, and HP and others by even more. It's very rare company that's actually running 12,000 servers in total, let alone trying to manage them all as single virtualized resource, but for those who aspire to big things, Cisco has upped the ante.

Finally, Cisco's announced a new fabric extender, the Nexus 2248TP-E. As the name suggests new switch is intended as a top of rack switch providing 48 100M/1GE ports. When used in conjunction with the Nexus 5596, multiple 2248TP-E's will provide up to 1152 physical host ports, 1024 logical NIC instances and support up to 2048 virtual machines.

The bottom line: Cisco continues to provide leading port densities and virtualization support throughout the Nexus product line. Whether Cisco is the new price leader is another matter. Practical installations aren't likely to max out configurations, so per port prices will be higher. But switch prices, performance, and port densities are always a leap frog exercise, and Cisco's leap here is a good one.