All change in the switching market

All change in the switching market

Cisco’s next-generation switch will be consolidating its leadership in the enterprise, says Alan Stevens

Readers of these columns will perhaps remember my warning of the impact that server virtualisation can have on network bandwidth. However, it doesn’t take a genius to work this out and one of the main networking trends this year will be a slew of new switching products designed to cope with the ever-growing demands of not just virtualisation but other bandwidth hungry applications too.

Leading the charge is Cisco with its Nexus 7000 line. Expected to start shipping later this year, the Nexus 7000 offers a massively scalable switching fabric capable of delivering 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) ports in the kinds of numbers required to support large datacentre environments. It can be configured with up to 512 10GbE ports in a single chassis for a throughput in excess of 15 terabits per second, further extendable to cope with 40Gbit/s and 100Gbit/s technologies as and when they are introduced.

With a £38,000 starting price, Nexus is a key component of Cisco’s Data Center 3.0 architecture. It also introduces its new Linux-based operating system, NX-OS, which is capable of consolidating a mix of Ethernet, IP and SAN traffic across a single switching fabric. It also makes use of virtualisation technology to provide for the flexible configuration of those interfaces, together with load balancing and dynamic re-routing of traffic in the event of a failure.

Nexus isn’t expected to replace Cisco’s existing Catalyst family of switches, which can’t currently be scaled beyond 10Gbit. Indeed, it has just announced a 16-port 10Gbit/s Catalyst module, and has a roadmap for further development along this line. But this could change as demand for bandwidth beyond 10Gbit/s grows.

Brocade continues to back Fibre Channel over high-bandwidth Ethernet technology, and has introduced switches based on the latest 8Gbit/s implementation. Cisco plans to support virtual Fibre Channel over Ethernet on the Nexus 7000 when standards are finalised.

Router vendor Juniper Networks has joined the switching fray with its long-anticipated EX family of products. Available in a variety of fixed and modular configurations, Juniper EX also features a new OS (Junos) and can be scaled to support 128 10Gbit/s ports, with facilities to build virtual switches of up to 480 ports if required.

The Juniper EX is more of a Catalyst rival and can’t really compete with what the Nexus 7000 can deliver. Juniper is also late to the market, and clearly hopes to leverage its existing router and NetScreen-inherited customer base. It is partnering with IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, but even with their help it is doubtful whether it can do much more than chip away at Cisco’s dominance.