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The Integration of Storage and Switching Takes a Giant Step Forward

At one time, networking functions were placed in stand-alone devices. Recently, suppliers tried to reduce the number of products needed  and simplify deployment and maintenance -- by integrating different functions into one device, a trend industry giant Cisco heartily endorsed.Functions, such as security checks and application acceleration, once required autonomous systems but no more. In keeping with that theme, Cisco, the industry leader in network switching, attempted to blur the line between network switches and storage solutions. The company announced its Nexus 7000 Series, which combines Ethernet, IP, and storage capabilities in one network fabric.

The Nexus line features great deal of processing power, delivering up to 15T bps of switching capacity in a single chassis, supporting up to 512 10G bps Ethernet connections now, and ready to work with future 40G bps and 100G bps Ethernet in the future. While the processing power may be overkill for many small and medium businesses, what should peak their interest is the design of the system. Storage systems have been gradually loosening their reliance on servers and moving to a network based approach. The new Cisco switch combines Ethernet switching and storage capabilities into a single platform, which should help companies ease their management requirements. As data processing requirements have increased, so has the number of devices in businesses data centers. In many cases, IT managers are scrambling to find sufficient staff to be able to monitor the growing number of systems. The new product line enables companies to reduce their management requirements and meshes well with trends, such as data center consolidation and server virtualization, which enable companies to consolidate autonomous devices into integrated solutions.

The Nexus line does come with a few caveats. First up is the price: starting at $75,000 (and one knows that a vendors list price never includes the features needed to actually deploy a product), the switch is too expensive for many small and medium enterprises. In addition, the product line features a new operating interface, Ciscos NX-OS software. While it builds on the company's SAN-OS, Layer 2 switching, Layer 3 routing protocols, and Cisco IOS interface, NX-OS is new and requires that network technicians be trained in order to become comfortable with it. The product also becomes a single point of failure; if it goes down so may the bulk of a companys applications. While technology has evolved so devices are reliable, there still are instances when items break and that could be catastrophic in this case.

Cisco tends to be cautious and enters an emerging area only when it has become apparent that it will be widely adopted. So it appears that the shift to integrating network and storage devices is now ready to take hold, and small and medium businesses need to monitor it and position themselves to take advantage of it in the future.

How does your company support its networking and switching functions? Would you like to consolidate the two? What do you view as the upside and downside of such a change?