Cisco, Insieme tout 'penalty-free' fabric architecture

Cisco this week significantly extended its data center networking portfolio with a new fabric architecture, an enhancement to another and, as expected, an extension to its Nexus core switching line.

The new fabric architecture is the concept of Insieme Networks, the Cisco spin-in company believed to be developing programmable data center switches. There was speculation last week that Insieme would unveil new hardware at Cisco Live this week in addition to its fabric vision, but the hardware won't come until the fall.

[GIVE US A BREAK:Breaking down Cisco's new data center strategy]

The other is an extension to Cisco's existing Unified Fabric for Cisco's Nexus switches, including the new Nexus 7700. The Nexus Dynamic Fabric Automation (DFA) extension is intended to automate the configuration and provisioning of those switches.

Insieme's Application-Centric Infrastructure is designed to simplify and speed application provisioning for IT shops, while DFA is designed to essentially do the same for the network infrastructure, in addition to simplifying fabric management and improving scale.  DFA works with the new Nexus 7700 switch and the existing Nexus 7000, but equipped with new 40/100G F3 modules that also debuted this week.

Attributes of the Insieme Application-Centric Infrastructure include integration of physical, virtual and cloud resources with consistent endpoint access and visibility of hardware. It is designed to provide systemwide integration of infrastructure, services and security, with real-time telemetry and expansion for future services.

The SDN overlay model for network virtualization actually adds more complexity to the network by attacking only a specific task and limiting the view of the network to individual elements, Insieme officials claim. It limits performance, scale and visibility, and leads to architectural rigidity, they say.

Application-Centric Infrastructure "is a systems-based approach and not box approach," said Insieme Senior Vice President Soni Jiandani, even though many SDN strategies from established and start-up vendors purport to do the same thing as the Insieme architecture. "This is penalty-free network virtualization."

Application-Centric Infrastructure is designed to allow applications to define networking requirements based on service profiles similar to those Cisco developed for its Unified Computing System server and storage access platform. It is intended to reduce provisioning time from weeks to minutes, Insieme officials say.

The architecture is also intended to provide a common policy management and operational procedures for automation across network, security and application administration, and will include compute and storage in the future, Insieme officials said.

"Simplification of the infrastructure -- this is where we will automate," Jiandani said.

The architecture will support multi-tenancy with varying service-level agreements, Jiandani said. It will support firewalls and load balancing services, various encapsulation schemes -- like VXLAN, NVGRE and 802.1X -- without requiring gateways between them, and any hypervisor, she said.

Application-Centric Infrastructure will also include published APIs to enable integration with and third-party partner applications and extensions. Two of the APIs it will support are XML and JSON for network management.

It will also support both custom and merchant silicon to encourage customer adoption and achieve optimal price/performance, port density and power efficiencies, Insieme officials say.

Insieme products will also incorporate optical transceivers designed to utilize existing 10G cabling as customers upgrade to 40G Ethernet, officials say. This will alleviate the need to re-cable the data center as those upgrades take hold, they say.

Insieme will launch its products later this year. Around that time, DFA will ship. DFA is designed to optimize two-tier  spine and leaf switch topologies by improving forwarding, distributing control, reducing the size of failure domains and providing unimpeded mobility for physical and virtual machines.

DFA will also provide multi-tenant scale of more than 10,000 tenants and 50,000 networks, Cisco says.

Fabric access will be from Cisco Prime Data Center Network Manager 7.0. DCNM 7.0 provides automated network provisioning and host, network and tenant visibility. Cisco Prime Network Services Controller 3.6 dynamically creates network services, communicates with VMware and Cisco Nexus 1000V virtual switches, and passes relevant information to DCNM, Cisco says.

Using network profile templates, instances of network policies are automatically created and applied to leaf switches when a server administrator provisions physical and virtual machines, Cisco says. As VMs move across the fabric, the network policy is applied automatically to the leaf switch, the company says.

Target nodes are no more than two hops away, one hop more than Juniper claims it can achieve with QFabric. This is designed to reduce latency for east/west traffic.

IP addresses are used for forwarding, Cisco says. Localized VLANs are terminated at the leaf nodes, and devices are grouped together by type or by row and configure themselves automatically to servers and VMs.

Cisco and Insieme say they will release design guides to implement either DFA or Application-Centric Infrastructure, and integrate both.

DFA works on the new F3 modules unveiled this week for the Nexus 7700 switch, as well as the 5-year-old Nexus 7000. F3 for the Nexus 7000 include six-port 100G and 12-port 40G modules, half the port density of those for the Nexus 7700.

The F3 modules are expected to ship in the second half of 2013. The Nexus 7700 switches are scheduled to ship in July.

The new F3 series I/O modules, which are supported on both 7000 and 7700 Series switches, deliver 40G/100G density, improve power efficiency by 60%, and support a broad set of proven Data Center Switching features.With these innovations, the Nexus 7718 delivers industry's highest capacity 40G and 100G switch with up to 384 40-Gbps ports and 192 100-Gbps ports. The Nexus 7718 has been designed to deliver up to 83Tbps of overall switching capacity.

Jim Duffy has been covering technology for over 25 years, 21 at Network World. He also writes The Cisco Connection blog and can be reached on Twitter @Jim_Duffy.

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