Perplexing Nexus - InformationWeek
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1/28/2008
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Terry Sweeney
Terry Sweeney
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Perplexing Nexus

If I were an IT vendor like Cisco and competing with Juniper (telecom) and Brocade (storage), a new Nexus platform and accompanying OS might make a lot of sense, splitting the difference as they do between these two backbone switching markets, each so hungry for terabyte and petabyte capacities. But if I were a storage buyer, I'd probably yawn.

If I were an IT vendor like Cisco and competing with Juniper (telecom) and Brocade (storage), a new Nexus platform and accompanying OS might make a lot of sense, splitting the difference as they do between these two backbone switching markets, each so hungry for terabyte and petabyte capacities. But if I were a storage buyer, I'd probably yawn.Some view Cisco's Nexus whomping terabit switch with more than 500 Gigabit Ethernet ports as a strike against Force10, Foundry Networks, and Woven Systems -- all high-speed Ethernet hardware vendors. That may be. But it seems to me the biggest update to its switching line in years is intended to blunt the advantage of Brocade's Data Center Fabric and its DCX backbone switch, introduced last week. Juniper's own data center switch-of-the-future announcement is expected any day now.

If I'm a data center professional, I can't imagine being too excited about having to support yet another Cisco OS, alongside its flagship IOS and the SAN-OS for the MDS line. And if I'm a storage specialist inside the data center, I'd be lukewarm at best over Cisco's decision to reject native Fibre Channel, and instead embrace Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) on the platform. FCoE's standard is a long way off, and while I could buy 8-gigabit Fibre Channel on the MDS line, even that gear won't be available til the second half of the year.

Nexus apparently makes perfect sense for the Cisco faithful, whose networks are in transition and ready to step up to more bandwidth and the processing power for virtualized applications and networks. I could imagine having to lay that last bit on pretty thick with my boss to begin a feasibility study or to escalate a purchasing conversation with higher-ups. And even still I'd expect to be challenged on it.

Cisco also is ceding one sector of the storage market: high-performance computing. HPC users, mostly academics or government research labs, rely on the storage interconnect, InfiniBand, and Nexus isn't going there. Nonetheless, the vendor will continue to encourage the HPC base to transition to Ethernet's "new lower latencies," but no one expects real movement there.

Did Cisco need to match Brocade's blockbuster DCX feature for feature, port for port? Probably not. Will Nexus appease the installed base? Sounds like it. But Nexus isn't the sort of thing that's going to win everyone's favorite router vendor more storage business. That's one place where the incumbency of Fibre Channel and Brocade will continue to dominate.

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