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Cisco Broadens Data Center Portfolio

With spending on data center hardware--servers, storage and networking equipment--recovering and expected to grow 12.7% to $98.9 billion this year and approach $130 billion by 2015, Cisco is expanding its data center portfolio. The networking giant is introducing second-generation capabilities for the Nexus 7000 family and Cisco FabricPath support for the Nexus 5500 switch; new switches with sub-microsecond latency to the Nexus 3000 ultra-low-latency switching family; and a virtualized version of its Adaptive Security Appliance to deliver consistent security for virtualized and cloud environments.

These announcements come just six months after Cisco announced updates to its Data Center Business Advantage portfolio, including additions to the Nexus line of switches, the Unified Computing System and NX-OS. The new introductions are all about the transition to 10 Gbit Ethernet, says Cisco's Jeff Raymond, VP, product management, Data Center Solutions. Supporting more than 12,000 10 Gbit Ethernet server ports, that's double the next-best offering on the market at less than half the cost, he adds.

Cisco says the new Fabric 2 module and high-density L2/L3 10 Gbit Ethernet F2 Series line card for the Nexus 7000 Series offers the industry's highest performance (768 line rate L2/L3 10 Gbit Ethernet ports in a single Nexus 7000 Series chassis) and reduced power per port (less than 10 watts per 10 Gbit Ethernet port). The addition of FabricPath support will bring the stability and scalability of routing to Layer 2 networks--with data-center-wide scalability, resilience and performance--to the Nexus 5500. The two new Nexus 3000 series switches will provide industry-leading sub-microsecond low latency, as well as high-density 40 Gigabit Ethernet (16 port 10G/40G) and copper (48 port 100Mb/1GbE) options for L2/L3 deployments, says the company. The virtualized version of the ASA 1000V appliance will extend firewall capabilities to provide consistent security for physical, virtual and cloud infrastructures.

Other additions include the Nexus 2248TP-E with enhanced buffering capability to support streaming video and audio, bursty traffic and big-data environments; the Catalyst 6500 with advanced VPLS (A-VPLS) to enable Layer 2 Data Center Interconnect with enhanced redundancy, load balancing, troubleshooting and easier provisioning; and IPv6 support across the Cisco Application Control Engine (ACE) portfolio, enabled through the new 5.1 software release. Cisco is also introducing new services--Cisco Network Operation Automation Service and Cisco Unified Fabric Optimization Service.

"We're moving out of the early adopter phase [for 10 Gbit Ethernet] and into the mainstream," says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research. The ability to scale to more than 12,000 ports puts them in the lead in the fabric market that also includes Brocade and Juniper. "Brocade has a pretty good fabric, but Juniper has fallen behind." The other significant aspect is Cisco's intent to extend its concept past the network, something the other fabric vendors aren't doing.

Everyone has 10 Gbit Ethernet switches, but feature sets separate the boys from the men, says Andre Kindness, senior analyst, infrastructure and operations, Forrester Research. "To Cisco's credit, it saw the data center evolution way before any other networking vendor and started to build a set of products and solutions directed at a converged and virtual world. With a series of launches over this past year, it offers the largest collection of tools, services and support to enable a networking platform to support virtualization and convergence, but the feature set isn’t consistent; Cisco’s Nexus line is the most complex to deploy and manage, but that comes with the territory of having the most options."

Kindness says customers aren’t asking for a fabric; they are asking for capabilities that Forrester has grouped into five categories: scalable, standardized, simplified, share and secure. "The industry, as a whole, is just in the infancy of creating solutions that mimic fabric characteristics, so there are a lot of options and risk. I think it is the most exciting time in the last 15 years. Besides traditional vendors punching it out, the industry is also being challenged by all the ideas and companies flourishing around OpenFlow, VMWare marginalizing networking and outsourcing to public clouds."

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