Data Center Management with the Cisco Nexus 2232TM & 10GBASE-T: Reporting from Cisco Live 2011

Hello again. Welcome to my second post from Cisco Live! 2011. It has been a great show so far, loaded with activity at the Intel booth and a lot of exciting showcases of new technologies. With today’s post, I’d like to talk about a particular technology that seems to come up at every show: The 10GBASE-T ethernet standard.

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned that Intel’s “Twinville” 10GBASE-T controller will be the industry’s first single-chip 10GBASE-T controller and will power the 10GBASE-T LAN on motherboard (LOM) connections for mainstream servers later this year. This integration, along with 10GBASE-T’s backwards compatibility with Gigabit Ethernet and support for already deployed copper cabling, leads us to believe that 10GBASE-T will ultimately be the dominant 10GbE interface in terms of ports shipped.

On Tuesday, Cisco nudged all of us a bit closer to that reality by announcing the Nexus 2232TM Fabric Extender, its first Nexus platform that supports 10GBASE-T. Let’s take a closer look.

Cisco Nexus 2000 Fabric Extenders behave as remote line cards for Nexus parent switches. They connect to the parent switch via 10GbE fiber uplinks and are centrally managed by that parent, creating a distributed modular switch – distributed because the parent switch and fabric extenders are not physically constrained by a chassis, and modular because additional fabric extenders can be added to increase switch capacity.

The Nexus 2232TM has 32 10GBASE-T ports as well as eight SFP+ ports for connecting to its parent, in this case a Nexus 5000 series switch. With that many 10GBASE-T ports, the Nexus 2232TM can connect to every server in a typical rack. Integration of 10GBASE-T LAN on motherboard (LOM) ports on these servers will drive adoption of 10GbE and 10GBASE-T over the next few years. Since 10GBASE-T is backwards-compatible with existing Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) equipment, IT departments can upgrade to 10GBASE-T all at once or even server-by-server and use the same fabric extender for all of the servers.

Here at Cisco Live, the Nexus 2232TM and Twinville-based 10GBASE-T adapters are key ingredients in a joint demo from Intel, Cisco, and Panduit. There’s quite a bit more to the demo (iSCSI, FCoE, live migration), but I don’t really have space to cover it here. I’ll see if I can post a short video of the demo in the near future.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Aurelie Fonteny, product manager for the Nexus 2232TM, who kindly answered a handful of questions.

BY: Aurelie, how does Cisco see 10GBASE-T growing over the next few years?

The past few years have been marked with a trend towards 10 Gigabit Ethernet at the server access. Virtualization, consolidation of multiple 1Gig cables, price, and higher performance CPUs have all been drivers towards that trend. 10GBASE-T will accelerate that trend with the additional flexibility of connectivity options. Ultimately, LOM integration will drive the exponential volumes of 10GBASE-T platforms.

BY: What benefits does the Nexus 2232TM offer to your customers?

AF: Cisco is excited to introduce the Nexus 2232TM, the first 10GBASE-T product in the Nexus Family of Data Center switches. In total, 768 1/10GBASE-T ports can be managed from one single point of management. As such, the Nexus 2232TM combines the benefits of the FEX architecture together with the benefits of 10GBASE-T: 10G consolidation, 1G to 10G migration simplicity, and cabling simplicity.

How do you anticipate customers deploying this product vs. the SFP+ version of the Nexus 2232?

AF: The Nexus 2232PP (the fiber version with Direct attach copper options) and the Nexus 2232TM share the same architecture and have the same number of host interfaces and network interfaces. The choice between the two platforms will be a trade-off between power, latency, cabling type, price, and FCoE support (not supported on Nexus 2232TM at FCS).

BY: We’ve heard folks say that 10GbE is too expensive. Can you talk about pricing for the Nexus 2232TM?

AF: The Nexus 2232TM is priced at a small premium over the Nexus 2232PP (fiber version with Direct Attach copper options). Total Cost of Ownership includes not only a point product but also cabling, server adapter, and power. As such, both solutions with 10G servers attached via direct attach copper (Twinax) from server to the Fabric Extender or 10G servers attached via 10GBASE-T from server to the Fabric Extender are about the same price today. Some of the decision factors would be requirements for FCoE consolidation, distances between servers and network access, cabling preference and existing cabling structure, and mix of 1G and 10G ports required at Top of Rack.

BY: How have Cisco and Intel’s work together advanced 10GBASE-T?

AF: Our strong collaboration with Intel from the early stages of 10GBASE-T on Catalyst and Nexus platforms has been critical to the ecosystem interoperability at the server access and to the overall high level quality achieved in 10GBASE-T product integration.

We are working with Cisco and Panduit on a white paper that includes key deployment models for 10GBASE-T in the data center. I will post a short blog when the paper is available.

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