Cisco's FabricPath beats IETF standard to market

LAS VEGAS -- Cisco this week expanded its data center arsenal with software, switches, modules and services all designed to scale the infrastructure to meet the demanding needs of virtualization, application complexity and cloud computing

Topping the list of extensions rolled out at Cisco Live! is FabricPath, an enhancement to Cisco's NX-OS operating system for its Nexus switches that combines Layer 2 configuration and flexibility with Layer 3 convergence and scale. FabricPath is intended to enable users to build large data center fabrics with multiple active paths to accommodate increasing "east-west" traffic flows across multiple server racks.

High server-to-server traffic loads can create inconsistent network behavior, which impacts performance, Cisco says. FabricPath is intended to scale this bisectional bandwidth and create a non-blocking architecture to enable more predictable performance.

It is also intended to allow users to maintain virtual LAN (VLAN) assignments and adjacencies when adding server capacity to handle application growth. VLANs can be extended east-west across server racks through FabricPath's multiple active links to facilitate location independent workloads, Cisco says.

Such capabilities are crucial to building large-scale data center fabrics that unify LAN and storage traffic across a lossless Ethernet infrastructure. But Cisco competitors are opting for an emerging IETF standard called Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) to achieve scale for unified data center fabrics.

Cisco says FabricPath is a "superset" of TRILL that enhances scale, among other features. But Cisco also says it will support TRILL when it is standardized, which is expected to be next year.

Analysts say in the meantime, Cisco may get a leg up on rivals in selling large-scale unified fabrics to data center customers.

"It will give them a product six months ahead of Brocade and Juniper," says Zeus Kerravala of the Yankee Group. "They can get some early mover advantage, early share, early best practices. And when Cisco gets that share a lot of vendors may have to support a Cisco de facto standard. But the downside is the risk that customers will have to rip out [FabricPath] if it's too distant from the standard."

To harness FabricPath's attributes, Cisco also unveiled modules for the Nexus 7000 switch specifically designed for unified fabrics. The F-Series modules feature 32 autosensing 1/10G Ethernet ports, raising the Nexus 7000's density to 512 ports per system for server access and aggregation.

The modules are built to support TRILL and the IEEE's Data Center Bridging standards, feature port-to-port latency of 5 microseconds, and consume about 1 watt per gigabit. They cost about $1,000 per 10G ports and can be ordered in the third calendar quarter.

The modules and FabricPath software allow Cisco to packaged six Nexus switches together as a single product for building large-scale data center switching fabrics. The FabricPath Switching System can be grouped in clusters of eight -- or 48 Nexus 7000 chassis -- to achieve 160Tbps of switching capacity and more than 5,000 line rate 10G Ethernet ports, Cisco says.

This is similar to the Virtual Chassis capability Juniper plans for its modular EX switches and MX routers to attain the scale it plans for its Stratus unified fabric.

For extending these capabilities into the cloud, Cisco enhanced its Wide Area Application Services WAN optimization appliance with a new software release. WAAS 4.2 features SaaS and HTTP/S traffic optimization, and is also now available as an on-demand service running on the services-ready engines of Cisco's ISR G2 branch routers. WAAS 4.2's Windows server feature has also been certified under the Microsoft Server Virtualization Validation Program for Windows, Cisco says.

Cisco also rolled out some professional services specifically for cloud deployments. The Cloud Enablement Service is designed to help customers transition their data centers to a cloud infrastructure through strategy, planning and design, and implementation consultation.

Cisco Intelligent Automation Solutions are intended to orchestrate and automate data center operational processes across Cisco routers, switches, Unified Computing System and cloud environments by centrally scheduling and managing processes across a range of systems, databases and applications.

Lastly, Cisco is now taking orders for the Catalyst 4948-E, a 48-port, 1RU 10/100/1000BASE-T switch with an optional 4x1/10G SFP+ uplink module. Among the switch's features are wire-speed IPv6, large buffers, autoprovisioning and Smart CallHome for proactive fault notification.

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This story, "Cisco's FabricPath beats IETF standard to market" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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