Dell and Cisco best buddies - for now

Strictly come network dancing

Cisco has introduced new converged data centre switching products and announced an expanded Dell relationship that could be threatened if the networking vendor's twinkle in the eye servers spring into being.

The 7018 joins the existing 7010 as a flagship data centre switch and has a 16-slot chassis supporting 512 10GigE ports. The 5010 is a 26-port switch, joing the existing 5020, and offering Fibre Channel, 20GigE, DCE (Cisco's Data Centre Ethernet - the one that won't drop packets), and FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) These 5000s aggregate traffic from various sources and send it on to the 7000s. Cisco has also announced a Nexus 2000 Fabric Extender which hook up servers to the 5000s in a network access layer (or edge).

The background here is that data centre IT infrastructure vendors are being encouraged to offer combined networking, server and storage offerings as Cisco brings a rumoured server offering to its Nexus switches and server vendor HP unleashes its ProCurve networking division to go head-to-head against Cisco with speculation that it is bring a router product to market. HP is also allying with Microsoft, Avaya and Riverbed to strengthen its networking offerings. This leaves other major vendors standing around like lemons at a dance deciding whether to step onto the floor on their own or look for a partner.

Sun is already on the floor with its servers, networking boxes and storage products and aggressively dancing the 'We can do it all now' samba. Cisco is looking for partners to extend its data centre switching market coverage while IBM, the great big blue elephant in the data centre dance, says nothing much, having sold its networking business several years ago. It looks potent though.

Brocade is stepping up its competition against Cisco, having bought Foundry Networks and enunciating a combined storage and data centre networking vision. Both it and Cisco are punting converged data centre switching products; Brocade with its DCX product line, and Cisco with its Nexus 7000 and 5000 products under a Data Centre 3.0 rubric.

Dell will offer the existing Nexus 5020 switch with its other products to provide a pooled data centre offering combining servers, storage, and networking. It doesn't offer the 7000 switches.

Brocade is hoping that Dell will take its HBAs to add to the existing Silkworm Fibre Channel switches it offers. Dell currently offers Emulex and QLogic HBAs to connect to them, and to the Cisco MDS Fibre Channel switches on its list. If Dell takes the Brocade HBAs then, Brocade hopes, it could take the DCX product as well, the low-end DCX-4S probably, because, Brocade says, the combination of the two provides extra storage networking features.

Just because Cisco has beaten Brocade to the punch and won Dell's affections for its 5020 converged data centre switch doesn't mean the door is now closed to Brocade though. Dell doesn't believe in monogamy and is a confirmed networking bigamist.

If, and when, Cisco does bring out a server product line then it will compete with Dell and at that point Round Rock might re-examine its networking relationships and look for an alternate supplier. It is unlikely to take networking products from competing server vendors such as HP and Sun. At that point Brocade might start making admiring glances at Dell, flutter its fan, and suggest a strictly non-competitive two-step around the data centre floor.

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