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New Cisco platform family targets the data centre

There's channel opportunity around the server virtualization trend, says the networking vendor

With a new family of data-centre switches, Cisco Systems is seeking to capitalize on the transition of the data centre to a more services-centric model, and assist network managers in orchestrating virtual IT resources and scaling workloads.

Centred around Cisco’s Data Centre 3.0 vision, the new offerings include the Cisco Nexus 7000 series, its flagship data centre-class switching platform combining Ethernet, IP and storage capabilities across a unified network fabric.

“We are expanding and evolving the approach that we have taken to the data centre market,” said Dante Malagrino, director of product marketing, data centre solutions for Cisco. “What we’re doing with the Nexus family is taking a lot of the expertise we’ve developed to enable new unified fabric applications to allow customers to run their data centres more efficiently.”

The Nexus family of data centre class switching products will be expanded over time, with the 7000 series as the flagship offering. The scaleable modular platform delivers up to 15 terabits per second of switching capability in a single chassis, with a unified fabric architecture to enable data centre consolidation and virtualization. The offering has also been designed specifically for the data centre, with improved airflow, integrated cable management and resilient platform architecture.

A key part of the Nexus family, says Malagrino, is a new advanced operating system, the NX-OS. It has been purpose-built to maximize data centre resilience and consolidate disparate networks, and combines features from a number of Cisco offerings, including SAN-OS and Layer 4 routing protocols, through the familiar Cisco IOS interface.

Malagrino says simplified IT management and operational continuity are differentiating factors. Nexus has been designed to support more operational models, and software can be upgraded, even remotely, without taking a switch offline.

“Efficiency is a very key differentiator of these solutions,” said Malagrino.

Initially, Cisco says the Nexus 7000 series has been designed for large enterprise data centres and service providers. Large enterprises have the most demanding data centres and biggest requirements for scale, support, virtualized environments and power efficiency. And service providers are amongst the largest enterprise data centres.

“Many organizations are moving away from a siloed IT organizational model and are beginning to introduce the concept of a data centre practice, driven in part by the deployment of server virtualization technologies,” said Malagrino. “This becomes true for a systems integrator or channel partner trying to have the same end user deploy their products.”

Cisco has two partner specializations around the data centre, the Advanced Data Center Network Infrastructure Specialization and the Advanced Data Center Storage Infrastructure Specialization. The former will be updated to include content covering the Nexus 7000 series of products says John Growdon, director of data centre solutions, worldwide channels, Cisco Systems.

“There’s a very large opportunity for our channel partners because you’ve got a market that’s in transition,” said Growdon.

“The partners that are able to sell a solution from an end to end standpoint on the network infrastructure will be able to differentiate themselves from other partners that don’t have that capability.”

To consolidate and virtualize a data centre requires a lot of professional services, notes Growdon, and the only way customers will be able to accomplish this consolidation virtualization is by working with channel partners and vendors.

“Consequently, there will be a lot of professional services opportunities to work customers through how they do the consolidation and virtualization,” he said.

Mark Drake is looking at the Nexus platform for future-proofing as his company, Health Management Associates, centralizes its data resources. The company runs about 60 hospitals, mostly in the Southeastern U.S. Health Management’s current Catalyst switches are probably enough to handle connectivity needs in its data centres for the next two years, but it’s hard to predict storage and processing requirements beyond that as he looks for the next generation, Drake says.

“I’m looking at a little over 10 years’ capacity,” Drake said. The Nexus line is built to go far beyond the scale of the Catalysts, delivering more than 15T bits per second. “The capacity to grow is huge,” he said.

Another benefit Drake sees in the Nexus line, which he has been told about but hasn’t tested, is ease of management. Health Management is already trying to reduce IT staff costs by consolidating data centres from each hospital to two main locations.

Because the new platform combines storage and data switching along with security in a single switch and management interface, it could further simplify running those data centres, he said.