Last month at Cisco Live* in San Diego, Cisco announced the first 10GBASE-T member of its Cisco Nexus* 5000 switch family, the Nexus 5596T. This new switch is a great complement to 10GBASE-T LAN on motherboard (LOM) connections powered by the Intel® Ethernet Controller X540.  Intel is a major proponent of 10GBASE-T, and we believe it will help drive 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) adoption by lowering costs and giving IT organizations an easy migration path from Gigabit Ethernet (GbE).


I caught up with Kaartik Viswanath, product manager for the Nexus 5000 family, at the show last week and asked him a few questions about the Nexus 5596T and Cisco’s views on 10GBASE-T. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:


BY: Kaartik, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions today. Tell me about the Nexus 5596T switch and 10GBASE-T module that Cisco announced yesterday.

KV: Sure. We’re very excited about the new Nexus 5596T switch. It’s the first 10GBASE-T member of the Nexus 5000 family, and it’s coming at the perfect time, with 10GBASE-T LOM connections now being integrated onto mainstream server motherboards. LOM integration will help drive 10GbE adoption, and all those new 10GBASE-T ports need a high-performance, high-port-density switch to connect to. The Nexus 5596T has 32 fixed 10GBASE-T ports, and through the addition of the new 12-port 10GBASE-T Cisco Generic Expansion Module (GEM), it can support up to 68 total 10GBASE-T ports in a two-RU (rack unit) design. Plus, customers can deploy any of the existing GEMs in any of the Nexus 5596T’s three GEM slots.


The Nexus 5596T also includes 16 fixed SFP+ ports, which customers can use to connect to aggregation switches, servers, or Nexus 2000 Fabric Extenders using optical fiber or direct attach copper connections. With the Nexus 5596T switch, our customers have the flexibility to deploy both 1/10GBASE-T Ethernet on Copper and FC/FCoE/Ethernet on SFP+ ports on the same chassis.


BY: Are you hearing a lot of interest in 10GBASE-T from your customers?

KV: Yes, definitely, and I think there are a couple of major reasons for that. First, 10GBASE-T offers the easiest path for folks looking to migrate from One Gigabit Ethernet (GbE). 10GBASE-T uses the same twisted-pair copper cabling and RJ-45 connectors as existing GbE networks, and it’s backwards-compatible with all the 1000BASE-T products out there today. That means you can replace your existing 1000BASE-T switch with a Nexus 5596T and connect to both 10GBASE-T and 1000BASE-T server connections. And as you’re ready, you can upgrade servers to 10GBASE-T.


I think the other big reason 10GBASE-T is so appealing is the deployment flexibility it offers; 100 meters of reach is sufficient for the vast majority of data center deployments, whether it’s top-of-rack, middle-of-row, or end-of-row.  Plus, twisted-pair copper cabling is much more cost-effective than the fiber or direct-attach copper cabling that’s used in the majority of 10GbE deployments today.


BY: Cisco and Intel both support multiple 10GbE interfaces in their products. How do you see 10GBASE-T fitting into the mix?

KV: We’ll support whichever interfaces our customers want to use. However, there are some general guidelines that most folks seem to be following. For longer distances – over 100 meters – SFP+ optical connections are really the only choice, given their longer reach.  But fiber costs really don’t lend themselves to broad deployment. Today, most 10GbE deployments use the top of rack model, where servers connect to an in-rack switch using SFP+ direct attach copper (DAC) connections. DAC reach is only seven meters, but that’s plenty for any intra-rack connections.


10GBASE-T hits sort of a sweet spot because of its distance capabilities. It can connect switches to servers in top of rack deployments, with cables that are less expensive than SFP+ DAC, or it can be used for the longer runs where fiber is being used today – up to 100 meters, of course.


There are cases where SFP+ has some advantages, particularly for latency-sensitive applications or if the customers are sensitive to power consumption, but when it comes to deployment flexibility, costs, and ease of implementation, 10GBASE-T is well-positioned as the interface of choice for broad adoption.


BY: How about Fibre Channel over Ethernet? Does the Nexus 5596T switch support FCoE over 10GBASE-T?

KV: Great question. FCoE is a key ingredient in Cisco’s unified fabric vision, and it’s supported in our 10 Gigabit Nexus and UCS product lines. The Nexus 5596T hardware is FCoE-capable like all of our Nexus 5000 switches, and we’re working on FCoE characterization in our labs. We’ve been working closely with Intel to verify FCoE interoperability with the Intel® Ethernet Controller X540.


There’s been a fair amount of discussion in the industry around whether 10GBASE-T is a suitable fabric for FCoE. Our collaboration with our ecosystem partners, including Intel, network cable vendors, and storage vendors, will help ensure there aren’t any issues before we enable the feature on the Nexus 5596T. Assuming everything goes well, we’ll also enable FCoE over 10GBASE-T in our 12-port 10GBASE-T GEM Module as well as our fabric extender line with the upcoming Nexus 2232TM-E Fabric Extender.


You can ready the full interview and sample my witticisms in this post in the Intel Data Stack community.



For the latest, follow us on Twitter: @IntelEthernet.