Cisco brings virtualization to Fibre Channel and Ethernet

Cisco launches new Ethernet switch, upgrades Fibre Channel MDS directors and prepares to deliver virtual desktops over the WAN -- all with VMware in mind.

LAS VEGAS – Cisco Systems Inc. is launching new products and upgrading existing ones to work better in virtual environments and is taking steps toward a converged Ethernet-Fibre Channel network.

At a press conference at VMworld Las Vegas Tuesday, Cisco rolled out a software-based virtual Ethernet switch that company officials said lays the groundwork for setting granular policies over Ethernet networks, including iSCSI SANs and WANs. Cisco also revealed that its 8 Gbps MDS 9000 Fibre Channel director switch modules are being qualified by its storage system OEM partners. The MDS modules take advantage of Cisco's new Virtual Network Link (VN-Link) technology and have built-in encryption for data in flight.

VN-link allows policies for security and quality of service to follow virtual machines moved across physical ports with VMotion. VN-link is now supported on MDS switches that have been ported to NX-OS to provide a common management framework for physical and virtual servers.

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Cisco will embed its new N1000V Ethernet switch in VMware ESX during the first half of next year. Ed Bugnion, Cisco chief technology officer of the server virtualization and access business unit, said N1000V "is for Ethernet-connected servers what NPIV is for Fibre Channel." N_Port ID Virtualization allows multiple Fibre Channel initiators to share one physical port.

MDS finally gets 8 Gbit support

Cisco has three 8 Gbit Fibre Channel modules: a 24-port module, a 28-port module and a host-based module with four 8 Gbit and 44 Gbit modules. The 24-port module is designed for Tier 1 applications, such as high-end storage subsystems and Inter Switch Link (ISL) connectivity between switches. The module is also built for mainframe connectivity and to separate Fibre Channel and FICON traffic on Cisco's Virtual VSANs.

The 48-port 8 Gbit module can deliver 192 Gbit of bandwidth and is designed primarily for virtual servers and tape libraries. The four 8 Gbit/44 Gbit modules allow customers to consolidate commodity servers with fewer switches.

VN-Link ties into Cisco's VSANs, which allows administrators to set up management groups with common quality of service, security and management policies. VN-Link allows virtual machines to retain their VSAN characteristics even if they move to different physical servers.

Cisco's storage OEM partners, such as EMC, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, are qualifying the 8 Gbit modules, but they are probably at least a month away from shipping to customers.

Cisco trails its Fibre Channel switch rival Brocade by nearly a year on 8 Gbit connectivity. Brocade began shipping 8 Gbit directors last January, and its entire Fibre Channel switching lineup now supports 8 Gbit. Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala said Cisco may have misjudged the impact of 8 Gbit because Brocade has taken market share over the past few quarters.

"Cisco has a network heritage, and they were looking at it from the network side where Ethernet increases tenfold each generation, from 10 Mb to 100 Mb to 1,000 Mb," Kerravala said. "Storage had been doubling, from 2 Gbit to 4 Gbit to 8 Gbit. Cisco looked at Fibre Channel doubling speed, didn't see it all that necessary to upgrade."

Cisco integrating WAAS, VMware

Cisco and VMware are also working on a way to deliver virtual desktops over the WAN through integration with Cisco's WAAS product, according to George Kurian, vice president and general manager of Cisco's application delivery business unit.

"It's now a mainstream customer request to deploy applications across disparate networks," Kurian said. "But their best practices, and the tools they use have to continue to work."

Senior news director Dave Raffo contributed to this story.

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