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Cisco hits back at Juniper's QFabric

Cisco has made an oblique response to Juniper's QFabric data centre network announcement with a blog posting claiming it has been shipping data centre network products based on a fabric architecture for several years, but which leaves the definition of fabric unspecified.

In the posting, John McCool, senior vice president/general manager of Cisco's Data Centre, Switching and Services Group makes no mention of Juniper of QFabric - launched earlier this week - but says: "It seems the next hot buzzword might turn out to be fabric," and he claims: "For Cisco, 'fabric' in the data centre has defined our data centre strategy and vision for the last three years." (And it seems hardly co-incidence that Cisco's RSS feed also delivered today another blog from McCool: 'The Evolution of Cisco's Data Centre Strategy', dating from June 2009.)

According to McCool's latest blog: "With the introduction of the Cisco Nexus family in January 2008, we also announced the concept of Unified Fabric as a fundamental building block for the data centre. We offered the simple vision of a single fabric to link all the network, compute and storage resources in a data centre as a mechanism to not only reduce TCO but also improve agility and flexibility.

"Since then, we have released a steady flow of products and technologies to deliver on the promise of Cisco Unified Fabric by simplifying the infrastructure with convergence, improving its ability to handle virtual and physical scale and increasing the intelligence of the fabric to increase agility and lower operating costs."

He claimed: "Other vendors in the marketplace are left to play catch-up. In a November 4, 2010 independent report titled 'Q&A: Networking Landscape, Q4 2010' Forrester Research commented that: "To Cisco's credit, it saw the data centre evolution way before any other networking vendor and started to build a set of products and solutions directed at a converged and virtual world."

And he cites a Gartner research note 'Fabric Computing Poised as a Preferred Infrastructure for Virtualization and Cloud Computing' (published just prior to the announcement of QFabric) that urges customers: "Do not overhaul or plan on rip-and-replace fabric development, but impose on vendors' design guidelines that harmonize their solutions with your other data centre infrastructure."


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The note also says: "Based on polling results and many interactions with clients, we believe that Cisco has been the most influential marketing force in expanding the IT vocabulary and recognition for fabric computing, which is currently dominated by two vendors (Cisco and HP), with Dell, IBM and others making moves. Most users are still determining the use cases of fabric-based computing, and, as yet, are unwilling to be sold prepackaged modules of complete solutions by a single vendor."

However neither the Gartner research note - which also contains the results of a poll on fabric computing of delegates at the December 2010 Gartner Data Centre Conference) - nor McCool's blog make any attempt to define what exactly is meant by fabric computing.

According to Juniper founder and CTO, Pradeep Sindhu, the term has many meanings and has been much misused and abused. He has set out, in a white paper, seven 'necessary and sufficient conditions' that an ideal fabric must exhibit.

"We define the ideal fabric as one that has fixed interface bandwidth, but infinite internal bandwidth and zero interface-to-interface latency," He then sets out a list of defining characteristics, claiming that "QFabric is about as well as one can do given the constraints of physical implementation."

These characteristics are: any-to-any connectivity with fairness and full non-blocking: low latency and jitter; no packet drops under congestion; linear cost and power scaling; support of virtual networks and services; modular distributed implementation that is highly reliable and scalable; single logical device.


Stuart Corner travelled to San Francisco for the launch of QFabric as a guest of Juniper Networks.

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