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Cisco's 'jawbreaker' seen as response to competitive pressure

Jim Duffy | March 10, 2011
Why would Cisco be developing a new data center fabric product line based on merchant silicon when its Nexus switches and FabricPath software are already available?

As for Jawbreaker in particular, Oltsik believes Nexus/FabricPath is optimized more for Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet (FCoE) penetration than for flattening a data center fabric. Cisco is an aggressive evangelist of FCoE for virtualizing storage, running it as another traffic type over Ethernet.

"The Nexus/FabricPath stuff... was originally designed for FCoE, not Data Center Bridging/TRILL-like functionality, so my hunch is that Jawbreaker is a next-generation version of FabricPath," Oltsik says. "In other words, I can't see Cisco offering both. In my view, the goal of Jawbreaker is a flat network with storage coming along for the ride -- very similar to QFabric in this sense."

Indeed, Juniper sees it that way too. In a comment on Oltsik's blog on the Network World Web site, Andy Ingram, vice president of product marketing in Juniper's fabric and switching group , says Cisco's FabricPath fails to adequately accommodate Layer 3 traffic in data centers while working around the shortcomings of scaling Ethernet in non-blocking data center networks.

QFabric, meanwhile, "changed the scaling model" of an Ethernet switch to distributed and federated elements rather than multiple Ethernet switches. By "rethinking the data plane, the control plane, and the management plane," QFabric scales to more than 6,000 ports and 44Tbps of cross-sectional bandwidth while maintaining the operational model of a single switch, Ingram says.

"It would appear that even Cisco agrees with Juniper's approach," Ingram states in his post. "Cisco's 'Jawbreaker' project is eschewing the FabricPath approach and is attempting to emulate the QFabric switch."

Even the current Nexus 5000 and 7000 switches are architecturally inconsistent, says another Cisco competitor. Jawbreaker is an attempt to correct that, while the Nexus 3000 is a time-to-market play to make up ground against Arista and Juniper in financial trading.

"The N7k and N5k were designed for different purposes -- the 7k was 'big fast modular box, feature rich, price point not much of an object, etc.' -- the 5k was 'get FCoE to market, support (Unified Computing Systems),'" the competitor says. "Getting these all to play together in a way that looks and feels like a single switch from a CLI perspective and from a forwarding plane perspective, given their divergent genealogy, is damn near impossible. Thus they do a new architecture to achieve time-to-market against Juniper as it's the only way they can cost-effectively deliver the capability."

 

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