When we think about fabric switches, we tend to consider low-end hardware. These typically do not require considerable memory, CPU, intense resources, or functionality. We also tend to think about them as just aggregation layer switches which will reduce our cable runs to the core switch. This helps keep investment and operation costs under control – fewer cables, hardware resources, and management.

All this is true and I am not in disagreement with the previous statements. However, let me address some recent changes that should be considered before making an investment decision.

Storage Area Networks are Evolving

Spinning disks are being replaced with All-Flash Arrays with NVMe on the horizon.  Servers are moving to NVMe storage as well as being NVMe/FC capable. Moreover, Storage Area Network (SAN) Directors also support NVMe/FC, along with robust hardware and software capabilities. The most ignored point is the fabric switch, where we connect our hosts and storage ports. This becomes a real problem if they have limited resources and feature support.  More often, the performance problems are found on the edge switches, rather than the core switches because that’s the highway entry for the packets to get into the fabric.

Now, what if we had more powerful hardware with more robust feature sets in this small form factor switches that we currently see in Director-class core switches? Cisco’s MDS 9000 Series 32G fibre-channel (FC) switches have this unique advantage, using the same switching ASICs across 32G FC Director modules and Cisco MDS 32G FC fabric switches.

10 Unique Enterprise Level Fabric Switch Features

Let’s discuss some of the unique enterprise-level features of these fabric switches:

  1. The port ASIC. All three switches are using the same ASIC that we are using in MDS 9700 32G FC module. This means this small fabric switch has the power of a modular switch. Small doesn’t mean less for Cisco MDS fabric switches.
  2. NVMe/FC support. Supported transparently across all the switches.
  3. Scalability: Offering a wide range of selection from 8-port to 96-port configuration.
  4. SAN Analytics. Dedicated hardware to support Cisco’s unique cost-effective, simple, and secure solution for deep packet visibility across the fabric.
  5. Cisco’s unique approach to security using anti-counterfeit technology and secure boot.
  6. Ease of deployment. Unique Autozone feature to automate zoning functionality.
  7. Simplified Management. Cisco DCNM is a single-pane-of-glass dashboard to manage all Cisco MDS switches.
  8. Feature parity. Benefit from the same level of inflight encryption, buffer credits, long-distance DWDM connectivity, same port group size, and non-oversubscribed line-rate performance across all fabric switches.
  9. Field replicable and redundant 80Plus Platinum-certified power supplies and FAN trays
  10. Front-to-back or Back-to front airflow options.

So, now when we go FC switch shopping, we don’t have to worry about features as they are common across all different models, just know how many ports we need and that’s it.

In the next blog, we will cover one more such topic: How Cisco MDS switches are leading innovation.

Until then, happy shopping!

Additional Resources

Learn more about Cisco Storage Area Networking.

Blog: Cisco continues investment protection with 64G FC readiness using Cisco MDS 9700 Series Multilayer Directors

Blog: Cisco MDS 9000 series switches: Security is better when it is built-in, not bolted on

Blog: Dell EMC PowerStore and Cisco MDS for SAN – A win-win pair to transform IT

Blog: IBM FlashSystem 9200 is here: Maximize investment with 64G storage networks

Blog: SANS enhanced performance, analytics, and automation

Blog: NVMe over Fibre Channel with MDS 9000 Series


Bhavin Yadav

Technical Leader

Data Center SAN Switching