Cisco, Brocade Duke It Out in the Data Center

Cisco and Brocade are contending for dominance in next-generation data center networks.

Cisco Systems and storage area network rival Brocade Communications will clash over the future of data center networking with dueling next-generation switch architectures designed to converge separate networks in the data center.

Cisco on Jan. 28 will introduce its next generation Nexus 7000 switch, which uses a brand new architecture distinct from Cisco's flagship Catalyst switch line to combine Ethernet switching, IP routing, storage, security and virtualization for high performance data center networks.

Brocade sought to beat Cisco to the punch a week earlier with the launch of its new DCX Backbone, also a new generation switching platform designed for high performance and intended to support the requirements of large-scale server virtualization environments.

Spurring the duel is the realization that existing network switching technologies used in the data center such as Fibre Channel and Ethernet can't keep pace with new demands coming from server virtualization and video. At the same time new technologies such as Data Center Ethernet are emerging that can overcome the limitations of those existing technologies.

Both new switches are intended to allow customers to consolidate separate storage and server networking infrastructures, but each addresses the consolidation effort from different perspectives.

"The Nexus [7000] is IP focused and the DCX is coming at it from a much more storage and Fibre Channel focused perspective," said Bob Laliberte, analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. "[The DCX] handles Fibre Channel, FICON and FCOE [Fibre Channel Over Ethernet] when the standards become available. The Nexus is 10 Gigabit Ethernet supporting FCOE. They are still two very different platforms right now."

For raw speeds and feeds, the Nexus 7000 supports an aggregate switching capacity of 15T bps (terabits per second) and 512 ports of 10 Gigabit Ethernet, with support planned next year for 40 and 100G bps Ethernet as well as the emerging FCOE standard.

It runs a new operating system, the NX-OS, which combines elements of Cisco's SAN-OS from its SAN switches, Layer 2 switching and Layer 3 routing protocols as well as switch virtualization functions with Cisco's well-known IOS interface.

The Nexus 7000 is the first implementation of Cisco's new TrustSec architecture, which implements role-based security and access lists rather than classical topology-based security. "The beauty of this architecture is we also offer wire speed, line rate encryption at 1 and 10 Gigabits per second," said Jayshree Ulla, vice president of data center networks at Cisco in San Jose, Calif.

The Nexus 7000 was designed to eliminate packet loss and avoid any service disruption during upgrades. For service providers, it also supports virtual device contexts that allow the switch to be partitioned into multiple logical devices, each having their own processor and command line interface that operate independently of each other.