Full Nelson: Cisco's Nexus -- Because They Can - InformationWeek

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1/28/2008
01:53 AM
Fritz Nelson
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Full Nelson: Cisco's Nexus -- Because They Can

Last century when Cisco started buying companies like an Orange County Housewife with a Platinum card in Silicon factory, the fool-proof way to sniff out the acquisition's purpose was to start with the assumption that Cisco believed the acquired company would help it sell more routers.

Last century when Cisco started buying companies like an Orange County Housewife with a Platinum card in Silicon factory, the fool-proof way to sniff out the acquisition's purpose was to start with the assumption that Cisco believed the acquired company would help it sell more routers.Crescendo-cum-Kalpana-cum-Grand Junction-cum-Arrowpoint-cum-Andiamo . . . somewhere along the way Cisco's bread got more butter from switch ports, but the goal behind even a new product launch is still as transparent. Cisco's brand-new Nexus 7000, a big, honkin' data center switch that unifies Ethernet and Fibre Channel onto one platform, is about everything relevant to the data center and then some. And for the love of Ethernet, it may make those Catalyst switches we've become so attached to all the more relevant and useful.

For those interested in an in-depth analysis of the Nexus 7000, our feature story awaits. For those interested in predictions about what Cisco is calling its biggest enterprise product launch in 15 years, the future awaits.

Storage, Ethernet, virtualization, some security; it's all there in one box, up to 15 Tbps capacity and expected to grow with 40 Gbps and 100 Gbps support in future versions. Blink and it's downloaded the Wikipedia database; 90,000 Netflix movies in 38.4 seconds; Cisco even promises to speed up the Barry Bonds proceedings (just wanted to make sure you were still reading).

Price tag: Starts at $75,000. Senior VP Jayshree Ullal, in perhaps the understatement of the week said, in response to a question about who this product is for: "It's definitely for people with a budget." That's not all. You'll still have to load balance, add wireless and switch applications and for that you'll still need your Catalysts.

But alongside the bulky performance gains a bucket of money provides, you also get to slim down on everything from management to power consumption to resource utilization, thanks to the ability to centrally manage the virtualization of your storage and servers through the switch. Fewer cables, better virtualization performance, less management headache. More savings, or so the theory goes. This is the same music from the likes of Xsigo and Brocade, who came in with its own thunder in the form of the DCX backbone a week ago. For now, the DCX is a core switch with Fiber Channel (6 Tbps capacity) with plans to add Ethernet later this year. Both Xsigo and Brocade provide virtualized I/O and that's really the key to making the Data Center hum. Cisco dismisses competitors as niche players (Xsigo = I/O virtualization via Infiniband; Brocade = Fiber Channel Chassis: been there, done that).

What's most interesting isn't the product but the process that created it. After years of buying companies, you should get more from it than some nice products and revenue streams (oh, and that fabulous valuation). You'd expect all of that talent and all of that technology to allow you to do things you wouldn't have thought. So whether or not the Nexus 7000 is a success, it's still the culmination of years of acquisition.

It's intriguing that Jayshree Ullal came by way of Crescendo and is a key figure in Cisco's switching maturation. And that Tom Edsel, the Data Center division's CTO, came by way of Cisco's Andiamo purchase. This product was three years in the making and built from the ground up, to the tune of $250 million in development costs and 500 engineers, resulting in more than 10 million lines of code in a new operating system.

It's interesting when a company like Cisco stands back from the acquisitions and its accumulated executives and harnesses all of its collective talent and power to build such a product. It's bold to ask yourself what you *can* build, and then go do it. Bold, yes. Smart, well, we'll get to that another day.

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