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Competitive assessment: Cisco Nexus 7700 switch

"From what I can tell talking to various folks, the Catalyst team develops their own products. The Nexus team develops their own products. These teams don't share notes, work for feature parity, test compatibility, or anything else. A Cisco friend of mine described it as not an aircraft carrier, but rather a thousand rowboats."

Tue, 7/9/13 - 11:59pm    View comments

Last month, the new Cisco Nexus 7700 Switch was announced at Cisco Live!, here's the details:

Competitive Assessment    Cisco Nexus 7700

Gartner    Interestingly, it was only 5-months ago that Gartner released its 2013 Magic Quadrant for Data Center Network Infrastructure report, which brought attention to:

Gartner's 4-cautions about Cisco's data center network infrastructure products

  1. "Software licensing costs can often result in additional costs that further challenge Cisco's ability to compete with alternative approaches."
  2. "Clients need to test their configurations and software revisions to address reported software reliability concerns in some complex environments with the Nexus 7000 and Nexus 1000V families."
  3. "Cisco has still not adequately addressed upper-layer services within the Nexus portfolio, and has also been slow in delivering technologies such as 40 GbE for ToR switches in its mainstream Nexus 5500 family."
  4. "Market share declines and input from client inquiries illustrate the increasing competitiveness in this market, and Cisco's challenges in delivering compelling, cost-effective solutions."

Then last week Routing and Switching CCIE #20655 Ethan Banks made the following observations in his blog story:

Positioning Cisco’s Ethernet Switching Products For The Enterprise

  • "The Cisco Ethernet switching line is getting a bit muddled. There's been functional overlap for a while, and the new 6800 line in particular makes this all the more poignant. In fact, Cisco's greatest competition might be...Cisco."
  • "I've learned that Cisco's BU's at times compete against each other. For example, the Catalyst crew loves their products; they don't care about the Nexus products. From what I can tell talking to various folks, the Catalyst team develops their own products. The Nexus team develops their own products. These teams don't share notes, work for feature parity, test compatibility, or anything else. A Cisco friend of mine described it as not an aircraft carrier, but rather a thousand rowboats."
   Ethan Banks

So here's a competitive assessment on the new Cisco Nexus 7700 switch:

  1. In alignment with Cisco's rip-and-replace strategy, the Nexus 7700 is a brand new chassis that is not backward-compatible with any existing Nexus switch line cards, supervisors or fabric cards. There's no investment protection and no upgrade path from any existing Nexus product lines. Existing Cisco Nexus 7000 customers have no choice but to sacrifice their earlier investment and rip-and-replace.
  2. Since this announcement is a blow to existing Nexus 7000 customers, Cisco's current flagship data center switch, the Nexus 7000 will likely be abandoned and its roadmap curtailed since the Nexus 7700 has much higher 10/40/100GbE port densities.
  3. Cisco has no clear direction and a confusing data center switching roadmap and strategy. Cisco now has three different products for the data center aggregation and core — Nexus 7700, Nexus 7000 and Nexus 6000 — each of which are incompatible and offer different architectures and roadmaps.
  4. Nexus 7700 is not environmentally friendly and is poorly designed. It is a monster in terms of power consumption, space and cooling — three key areas that contribute to 50% of data center costs. The Nexus 7718 weights up to 900 lbs. and occupies 26RU. If you go with Cisco, be prepared to spend considerably more on your data center which was backed up last week by the observations of Cisco CCIE Ethan Banks:

    "Capex is going to be significant for either Catalyst or Nexus product lines... Don't overlook ongoing opex in the decision, either. Nexus gear tends to cost a goodly amount to cover, although in fairness, Catalyst 6500s have been a kick in the pants for many a SmartNet contract over the years."
  5. In addition, Insieme is expected to announce another switch line, the Nexus 9000, soon. What will that do to Cisco's strategy for data center switching?
  6. Cisco has no clear data center architecture, given that they have so many product families in that space with different releases and roadmaps. Cisco has yet to deliver a unified data center architecture. No integration with open standards-based orchestration tools like OpenStack. Nexus 7700 only supports OnePK, a Cisco proprietary solution creating vendor lock-in.

Cisco Nexus 7700 competitive weaknesses:

  1. The Nexus 7700 is a brand new product line with no proven track record and it's not backward-compatible with any of the existing Nexus product families. Lastly, it is not yet shipping and will not have the needed features on Day 1.
  2. In the wake of the Nexus 7700 announcement, the Nexus 7000 will have very limited growth and no roadmap to speak of. There's no upgrade path to the Nexus 7700 for existing Nexus 7000 customers, which means all existing line cards are headed for cold storage.
  3. The Nexus 6000 just adds to the confusion. It is a very different product than Nexus 7000 and Nexus 7700, with a completely different roadmap. Nexus 6000 does not bring any architectural value to the network; it's just a bigger Nexus 5000 with less functionality. Its roadmap will be questioned given the introduction of Nexus 7700.
  4. Does Cisco really have a strategy for their data center products? Apparently not, as there's no investment protection, no upgrade path, no backward compatibility, no coherent roadmap and no discernible architecture.

Good questions customers should be asking Cisco:

Customers will be thinking about how Cisco has taken advantage of them in the past and wondering about these things.
  1. If they just bought the Nexus 7000 for OTV/LISP or Fabric Path, now what?
  2. If they just upgraded to the new Nexus 7000 line cards for 40GbE capabilities, what do they do now?
  3. If they just upgraded from the Cisco Catalyst 6500E for 40/100GbE capabilities, what do they do now?
  4. If they just installed the Nexus 1000v for virtualization, how do they manage both the physical and virtual infrastructure?
  5. If they just bought the new Nexus 7700 and a new Nexus 9000 is launched, what happens to their old investment and which platform will likely get the most resources from Cisco?

What will happen when Insieme comes out?

A customer said that 5-years back they had to choose between the depth of features on the Catalyst 6500 vs. the performance of the Nexus 7000. They chose performance over features, so they had to retrain their staff on a very different operating system that used NX-OS vs. IOS. It turned out to be long and painful, but they finally got it done.

Later they were shopping for a Top of Rack switch to go along with the Nexus 7000. Again this was tough since they had many options. For 1 - 10 GE migration they liked the Nexus 2000, but it was limited by the scale and size of the solution. So they started looking at the Nexus 5000, and soon the 5500 since they were told that they could build large fabrics using a protocol called FabricPath, a proprietary "superset" of TRILL. But then they realized that the Nexus 5500 switches were really slow. Someone then pointed out the faster Nexus 3000, which was again upgraded to the Nexus 3500 without warning and they thought that they had the winning solution.

However, when they looked deeper, the Nexus 3xxx neither had any fabric protocol nor supported storage convergence like FCoE. So they were then back at square one questioning if they had done the right thing by choosing the Nexus 7000 in the first place. They had been forced to go proprietary for the DC interconnect protocols using Cisco's OTV and LISP, though they later shipped MPLS/VPLS on the Catalyst 6500. They had chosen the Nexus 7000 for the performance more than anything else, but then Cisco shipped the Nexus 6000 which was faster and cheaper than the Nexus 7000.

Now the new Nexus 7700 has very high performance and density, but it needs a new chassis, new cards, new everything. Even though its a Nexus 7K, you can't use any of the cards that you bought over the past 3-years for the Nexus 7000. It seems like customers are back to where they were 5-years ago trying to decide between the aging Catalyst 6500 and the Nexus 7000.

It finally dawned on them it wasn't a plan gone bad, it was the plan all along. So they thought that they'd congratulate Cisco on a very successful strategy. Afterall, Cisco managed to make them spend way more than they had estimated and it could actually cost someone their job. Which begs the question, what will happen when Insieme comes out?

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Related stories:

First photograph of Cisco Nexus 7710 and Cisco Nexus 7718 Switch

Unconfirmed rumor Cisco's about to announce Nexus 9000 Insieme Networks product

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