Cisco revamp opens up network with FCoE

The company has brought end-to-end Fibre Channel over Ethernet to its network fabric to see datacentres use the communication specification for homogenised networking architectures

Cisco has refreshed its datacentre fabric, pushing out a comprehensive update that brings end-to-end Fibre Channel over Ethernet connectivity to the networking company's core switching and storage-switching portfolio.

The update, announced on Wednesday, sees Cisco push Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) technology across its network, in a bid to make it possible to converge storage and servers around the same networking architecture.

"The major part is the ability to carry traffic end-to-end [on FCoE] — that is the big underlying announcement," Paul D'Cruz, Cisco UK and Ireland's head of datacentre technical strategy, told ZDNet UK. "Having the ability to plug in any type of device straight into a switch is one side of it, and then it's about having the flexibility of the topology they use, whether it's a Layer 2 or Layer 3 architecture."

In switches, Nexus 7000 and Nexus 5000 switch families now have ports that can be used with a range of communication protocols, such as 1- and 10-Gigabit Ethernet (GbE), and are compatible with multi-hop FCoE. There is also a new switch, the Nexus 3000, designed for low latency, and the company has brought FCoE integration to its MDS 9500 storage-switching platform. The FCoE support will arrive in the second quarter, Cisco said.

'Standardising' the inner network

Also included are a bevy of software updates to management applications and the introduction of FCoE awareness into Cisco's NX-OS datacentre operating system. Cisco also teased details of upcoming Unified Computing System (UCS) servers, but did not say when they will arrive.

FCoE allows LAN, Fibre Channel and iSCSI-based SAN and server traffic to be consolidated over Ethernet, simplifying the communications and interface standard used throughout the network. Multi-hop allows FCoE to traverse a network though multiple FCoE-aware switches without losing control and functionality.

The flexible architecture almost simplifies the management further, so the management is in the core devices more.

– Paul D'Cruz, Cisco

Multi-hop FCoE requires a level of intelligence in the switching equipment, so that when FCoE passes through a switch, that switch can send information to its peers. By adding in the technology, Cisco has given SAN administrators the ability to see storage traffic as it runs over Ethernet, with full network tracking possible if the whole switch and storage-switch topology is capable of multi-hop FCoE.

As the MDS 9500 is now FCoE-capable, it is possible to feed storage traffic into the storage switch via Fibre Channel, then go through the network using FCoE. That makes it possible to homogenise the network, potentially saving on unnecessary FC hardware, according to D'Cruz.

Fundamentally, the FCoE push is about "standardisation" of the inner network of the datacentre, he said.

"If, for instance, a customer came and looked at a design today, and [the customer] had storage arrays that were FCoE and FCoE-capable server architectures, effectively you can carve out storage channels through FCoE on Nexus" and still determine the route of the Fibre Channel network through the overall multi-hop FCoE network, D'Cruz said.

Nexus updates

In the same announcement, Cisco outlined multiple updates and an addition to its core Nexus family of switches. The Nexus 48-port 5548UP and 96-port 5596UP models now have the Unified Port (UP) update, which allows any port to be designated as 1GbE, 10GbE, 2/4/8Gb Fibre Channel or FCoE.

The new switch is the Nexus 3064, which is targeted at latency-conscious sectors such as high-frequency trading and high-performance computing. It has one microsecond port-to-port latency and comes in simple 1U chassis. According to Cisco, the application-specific intregrated circuit (Asic) inside the 3064 delivers 1.28TB/sec bandwidth of Layer 2 and 3 switching, can handle 950 million data packets per second and has similar performance to the Arista Networks 10/40GbE switch, announced on Monday.

On the software side, Cisco has increased the analytical capabilities of its Nexus 7000 switch. The device now has fabric extender technology support, which means it can be used with Cisco's 10GbE Fabric Extender to offer a single point of management for up to 1,500 ports per chassis.

Additionally, the 7000 now supports Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) for Layer 3 VPNs and the Locator Identifier Seperation Protocol (Lisp) routing and addressing architecture. MPLS is designed to secure and enable infrastructure for cloud-networking, while Lisp boosts the mobility of data in a network and so makes it easier to move virtual machines through the network.

Because the 7000 switches are gaining greater analytical and managerial capabilities, overall network control becomes simplified, according to D'Cruz. This is because management can carried out more via the individual switches and less through top-down administrator control.

"If you look at the traditional part of managing the infrastructure layer, we're streamlining that with the release," D'Cruz said. "The flexible architecture almost simplifies the management further, so the management is in the core devices more."

As part of the network fabric update, Cisco's datacentre operating system, the NX-OS, now has full multi-hop FCoE awareness, bringing FCoE-linked devices into its management scope.

Cisco also said it is getting ready to launch a revamp of its UCS servers, including the C260 rack-mounted server, designed for high-transaction applications. Also in line for release are versions of the UCS B230 M2, B440 M2 and C460 M2, updated with the next stage of Intel's Xeon family of processors, the Westmere EX.

Get the latest technology news and analysis, blogs and reviews delivered directly to your inbox with ZDNet UK's newsletters.