Last month Cisco announced details for their new FabricPath data center fabric strategy which I suspect they are demoing now at InterOp. They announced fabric extensions (FEX) for the server NIC to the network core. New products at the server include Adapter FEX and VM-FEX which obviate the need for an access switch. Cisco says both Adapter FEX and VM-FEX are based on the IEEE 802.1Qbh standard for port extension of remote physical switches processing frames and packets on behalf of virtualized switches in blade servers. Adapter FEX splits a physical NIC into multiple logical NICs to accommodate multiple VMs per NIC, yet maintains a single point of management.
The biggest and most controversial aspect of the announcement is the multihop FCOE support for the Nexus 7000 and MDS SAN switch. The gear had previously supported only limited end-to-end connectivity as core switches could not pass FCoE traffic. These new fabric extensions supposedly allow collapsing of layers for a flatter, lower latency unified Ethernet switching infrastructure in the data center that will support multiple types SAN in addition to IP/Ethernet data. See The Register’s “Cisco fleshes out FCoE offering”. This Packet Pushers podcast compares FabricPath with the similar offerings from Juniper and Brocade.