Storage Infrastructure for a Data Center in Transition

Cisco July 2015 Briefing Note

The enterprise data center is in transition, moving from a variety of scale-up applications and architectures to one where they scale-out. Scale-up designs are typically fibre channel based, where scale-out designs are usually IP based. Unless the organization is a cloud provider starting from scratch, the transition in architectures can’t be done overnight. Particularly in the enterprise, but even within more mature cloud providers, there are fibre channel storage networks that need to be maintained, improved and even expanded.

Scale-up workloads are typically designated as mission critical. They have benefited from the addition of high-performance flash. Fibre channel’s 16Gb bandwidth and its rock solid, deterministic nature are ideal for these flash enhanced workloads. Many data centers, however, struggle with how to invest and manage the fibre channel architecture while building the scale-out next generation architectures. In July Cisco delivered an update to its fibre channel portfolio that should help.

Fibre Channel Continues to Improve

Since 2002 Cisco has had a history of fibre channel leadership. Introducing capabilities like virtual SANs, integrated multi-protocol routers, 10Gbps FCoE and unified ports. In 2014, Cisco released their 9148S Multilayer Fabric Switch, a SAN solution for small to medium sized businesses. They also delivered at the high-end of the market with the 9706 Director, which features a very high port density of 192, auto-sensing, line rate, 16Gbps FC or 10Gbps FCoE ports per chassis.

For 2015 Cisco has shipped the MDS 9396S Fibre Channel Switch. This 2U switch provides line-rate performance to 96 x 16Gbps ports. It, like the 9148S, has a pay as you grow port activation model. IT planners can start with 48 ports and increase to the 96 port maximum in increments of 12. Cisco claims that the 9396S is less expensive than competitive options by as much as 20%.

40G Converged Ethernet Fabrics For Storage Networking

While legacy infrastructures continue to be critical, the data center is evolving, and that is driving the continued adoption of Ethernet as a storage protocol. These environments tend to be scale-out and based on TCP/IP-based protocols like RPC, SOAP and REST.

To continue its leadership role in this market, Cisco is shipping its Nexus 7700/7000 with 40G Converged Ethernet. These director class devices have the ability to support 10G/40G FCoE, NAS, iSCSI, IP-based Object Storage and LAN traffic on a single system. They can also converge 10/40GE line-rate storage traffic in a leaf-spine architecture, common in next-generation data centers, where east-west traffic is as crucial as north-south.

Operational Simplicity

Finally, Cisco is continuing its ongoing quest to deliver operational simplicity for both the MDS and Nexus families. Improved simplicity includes end-to-end visibility that can show path dependency mapping across multiple domains and protocols. Also, customer port groups can be created that allows aggregate performance reports and event notifications. Finally, Cisco is providing SAN host path redundancy analysis which provides automated, on-demand redundancy analysis.


The data center is in the state of transition. The speed at which that change will occur is measured in years and for some data centers potentially decades. To cope¬†with this long transition time, data centers need infrastructure solutions from vendors that support today’s mission-critical applications and tomorrow’s next-generation workloads. Cisco is an example of a company that is not only delivering the hardware, but also the software to make the management of this mixed environment practical.

Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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