Cisco switch gear aims at data center

Eight-port 10G blade, blade server switch set to debut.

A pair of new Cisco switch products released this week - an eight-port, 10G Ethernet core switch module and a Gigabit Ethernet blade server switch - are targeted at high-traffic enterprise data centers that require large network pipes and low traffic latency, the company says.

The offerings include an eight-port 10G Ethernet module for the Catalyst 6500 core switch, as well as the Catalyst Blade Switch 3040, a 10G-capable blade that works with Fujitsu Siemens' Primergy blade server equipment. These products promise greater bandwidth for enterprise data centers, allowing core switches to link to other devices via 10G, and opening up the flow of network traffic to server blades running inside a chassis. Additionally, Cisco is launching an online collaboration program through which users can share scripts written for automating Cisco switch and router management.

The new Catalyst 6500 module is Cisco's first eight-port 10G Ethernet blade. An eight-port 10G module is nothing new to the industry, as Foundry Networks, Extreme Networks and Force10 Networks have shipped 10G modules with eight or more ports for some time. Except for Force10, Extreme's, Foundry's and Cisco's new modules operate as oversubscribed: The total aggregate bandwidth for all ports exceeds the total switching capacity of the switch chassis' slots in which the modules sit. Deploying oversubscribed switches is a common practice in data centers, as it allows more servers or other devices to attach to the network.

Cisco's eight-port 10G Ethernet blade can switch as much as 64Gbps of traffic, the company says.

Cisco says the eight-port 10G module includes the DFC-3C forwarding engine card, which boosts switching speed of the device by 60% over Cisco's previous four-port 10G blade. The blade can switch as much as 64Gbps of traffic among different ports on the blade (40Gbps of bandwidth is available between the Catalyst 6500's slot and the backplane of the switch).

Other module improvements include beefed-up packet buffers inside the hardware and the design ASIC-to-port ratio of the module. Cisco's four-port blade had 16MB of packet buffering memory; the new module has 256MB for buffering. This keeps the 10G ports from being overwhelmed by traffic bursts, so that packets are not dropped, says Marie Hattar, senior director for routing and switching at Cisco.

Cisco also has built more switching ASICs into the blade, with a chip for every corresponding port, which the company says improves performance. Cisco's previous multiport 10G blades shared switching ASICs among ports, as do products from competitors.

"You could potentially flood that ASIC if you oversubscribe that way," Hattar says. "What we've done is oversubscribe on the fabric level," where the number of ports exceeds the switching capacity of the module, while each port gets its own traffic-processing chip.

Putting more 10G ports on a line card is what will drive 10G adoption, analysts say.

"High-density 10G is important, because no one wants to use a whole slot in their switch chassis just for two or four ports of 10G," says Zeus Kerravala, a Yankee Group analyst.

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