Cisco's Data Center Guru Talks Direction, Strategy

As a 13 year Cisco veteran, John McCool, senior vice president and General Manager of Cisco's Data Center Switching and Services Group, has seen a boatload of change.

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If you converge your I/O at the compute resource you can save about 8% of the power in a data center. It might not sound like a lot but customers tell us the network only consumes 15% to 20% of the power in any given center, so it is a significant reduction. In our own environment, when we moved to unified I/O, we reduced about 4,800 cables. The reduction of waste, the inherent reliability gain of reducing that cabling, is very significant.

How do you see FCoE ramping up?

The standard was ratified in June and industry support has been accelerating. There are two legs to this adoption journey. The first leg gets you 75% to 80% of the benefit of converging Fibre Channel over Ethernet between the server and the access switch. Our architecture connects servers to our Nexus 5000 access switch which in turn splits the Fibre Channel traffic to the traditional SAN devices through our MDS, and the IP traffic through our Nexus 7000. So, the majority of the benefit - the cabling benefit I just spoke of, the power reduction - all is in that first connection from the server to the switch.

The second leg is for the many customers that will take some time before they upgrade their arrays and their disk storage from native Fibre Channel to FCoE. This architecture allows them to have a staged migration strategy, but gets huge benefits on day one.

What role does MDS play in that migration? How do you migrate the installed base to FCoE while protecting the customer's investments in MDS?

As I said earlier, servers will be the first to move towards FCoE. Since not all customers will upgrade everything at once, they can then connect their existing MDS to our Nexus 5000 and keep their legacy storage arrays intact. So, MDS plays a critical role in maintaining the Fibre Channel storage-area networks in an enterprise, allowing customers to keep their existing Fibre Channel investment. The other thing unique about MDS is our platform strategy. Rather than upgrading to a new chassis every time we move from two to four to eight gig Fibre Channel, we can upgrade the existing chassis and protect that installed base. This is a very unique approach from what we see in the industry, and is something that has served us well in the IP world.

How much of that storage connectivity in MDS will be subsumed eventually by the Nexus line?

I think you're poking at the migration time frame from Fibre Channel to FCoE. It is tough to predict how quickly this will migrate, but I do see the growth of that overall market in the FCoE component.

Will the Nexus eventually assume all of the capabilities of the MDS line?

There will be customers who will look for pure Fibre Channel connectivity that we'll provide in the MDS, and folks who will look for FCoE as we have provided in the Nexus 5000.

So, will MDS be around as long as native Fibre Channel is around?

We're not going to predict life spans, but the exact same approach we took to the 6500, in terms of migration of incremental speed and incremental capability, that is our fundamental strategy on MDS, being able to continue to upgrade that product without chassis replacement. I think that is going to be important as you start to see these storage technologies collapse on IP

Rumor has it that the secret Alpine Project is a joint venture between Cisco and EMC to develop integrated compute/storage products and services for data centers. Can you discuss that?

No, I can't.

Can you confirm that it exists?

No, I can't. I can't comment.

Do you have any plans to integrate a storage array directly in UCS?

There is nothing to announce today on storage.

Great. Anything in closing here that you would like to get on the table that we didn't happen to address?

As we have gotten into a large number of market adjacencies, people have questioned whether we've lost our focus. I want to set the record straight: the foundation of our business is around routing and switching. As we get into things like connected real estate and digital signage, physical security, you look at these multi-million dollar opportunities and switching and routing is the core of everything we do and, fundamentally, we believe switching and routing is an innovation proposition. It is continuing to change. We have driven a lot of those transitions over a long period of time, and we feel we are extremely well positioned to continue that in the future.

What about the Flip digital camcorder? How does buying the company that makes that fit into the vision?

One of things you have to do as a market leader is drive the vision of how your technology is going to be used. I think people were scratching their heads when we introduced Tele-Presence. Now, as you see wide deployments of TP, people understand the connection. If you look at the Flip, how video can be used on a personal basis, how you can connect it to enterprise Web 2.0 technologies and use that as a communication medium, I predict you will see more personal use of video as collaboration starts to build out, but somebody has to drive it.

Are you saying that with a straight face?

I am. I really am.

Alright. We can see that technology driving traffic demands, but why you need to be in that business is beyond me, but we'll leave it at that.

This story, "Cisco's Data Center Guru Talks Direction, Strategy" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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