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Review: Cisco Nexus 5000 bridges the network gap

Switch is among first to seamlessly consolidate Fibre Channel and Ethernet traffic

By Mario Apicella
July 28, 2008 12:00 PM ET

InfoWorld - Traditionally, network transport has run on two separate technologies, Fibre Channel (FC) and Ethernet, which, like two railroads with different gauges, seemed bound to never meet.

Just about everybody agrees that having a unified network could bring significant financial and administrative benefits, but when exploring possible simplifications to the data center fabric, customers faced discouraging and costly options such as tearing down their FC investments or extending the FC network to reach every server and every application.

2008 started with industry signals that it would be the year when those two "railroads" would finally come together. We had a first glimpse that things were changing in that market when Brocade announced the DCX in January. Later that winter, a new technology, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) — created by an offspring of Cisco, Nuova Systems — came to maturity in the Nexus 5000 switches, promising to finally bring these two most critical networks under the same administrative banner.

This spring, about one year after first introducing the concept of FCoE, Cisco announced the Nexus 5000, a 10G Ethernet switch that supports the new protocol and promises to make consolidating FC and Ethernet traffic as easy and as reliable as bringing together Ethernet connections with different speeds on the same switch.

How do the approaches from Brocade and Cisco differ? I won't stretch that rail analogy further than this, but it helps if you think of the first as a converging point for different railroads and see the second as a unified rail where to roll heterogeneous transports.

In fact, FCoE brings seamlessly together the two protocols, potentially reaching any application server mounting a new breed of adapters, aptly named converged network adapters, or CNA. A CNA essentially carries both protocols, Ethernet and FC, on a single 10G port, which cuts in half the number of server adapters needed and, just as important, reduces significantly the number of connections and switches needed south of the servers.

The other important component of the FCoE architecture is obviously the Nexus 5000 switch, a device that essentially bridges the FC and Ethernet networks using compatible ports for each technology. Moreover, adding an FCoE switch requires minimal modifications, if any, to the existing storage fabric, which should grab the interest of customers and other vendors.

Cisco declares for the first model released, the Nexus 5020, an aggregate speed in excess of 1Tbit/sec. and negligible latency. This, together with an impressive lineout of 10G ports, makes the switch a desirable machine to have when implementing server virtualization. To paraphrase what a Cisco executive said, perhaps a bit paradoxically, with FCoE you can burden a server with just about any traffic load.

Reprinted with permission from InfoWorld. Story copyright 2012 InfoWorld Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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