Cisco this week rolled out several new and enhanced products across its data centre portfolio, including a 10G Nexus switch  that allows users to configure the ports for Ethernet or FibreChannel traffic. The products are designed to improve the efficiency and flexibility of customers' traditional and virtualised data centre environments, Cisco says. Cisco refers to the strategy as its Unified Networking Services plan.

In addition to the new Nexus 5500 10G switch, Unified Networking Services includes a firewall integrated with Cisco's Nexus 1000v virtual switch, a virtual version of the Cisco WAN acceleration appliance that runs under VMware hypervisors on Cisco servers, extensions to the Nexus 2000 fabric extender line, a new 32-port 10G module for the Nexus 7000 switch, upgraded Nexus 1000v virtual switch software and hardware and software extensions to the Catalyst 6500 switch to support higher density, greater scale and higher availability.

"All of these are necessary components of the evolution of the data centre," says Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. "As more services become virtualised and mobilised, all of the appliances that sit around it get virtualised as well."

Indeed, that's just what Cisco is doing with some of this announcement. First came the virtual switch with the Nexus 1000v in 2008. Now all of the ancillary appliances around it, WAN accelerators, firewalls and so on, are being virtualised as software enhancements to that virtual switch.

But virtual switches still cannot do everything a physical switch can do... yet. So Cisco unveiled the Nexus 5500, which is designed to enable any-transport over Ethernet, Layer 2 and Layer 3, as well as storage traffic, including iSCSI, NAS, FibreChannel, RDMA over Ethernet and InfiniBand over Ethernet.

The Nexus 5500 also has a feature called Unified Ports that allows a user to configure 16 of the switch's 48 10G ports as either lossless Ethernet or FibreChannel. This is intended to allow those entrenched in FibreChannel to gradually move to FibreChannel-over-Ethernet for a converged Ethernet switching fabric in the data centre. Cisco says that within six months it will ship a 96-port version of the 5500 in which all ports are Unified Ports.

"Now the customer doesn't have to choose in advance whether they want to have FCoE, NAS, iSCSi or FibreChannel," Kerravala says. "They can just buy the switch and move the ports over at whatever pace you want. It helps companies evolve versus having to make a hard cutover."

Next on the data centre docket are the virtual appliances for the Nexus 1000v virtual switch. The Cisco Virtual Security Gateway is a software-based firewall designed to secure virtualised data centres and multi-tenant cloud environments by filtering packets.

Virtual WAAS (vWAAS) is software designed to virtualise the Cisco WAAS WAN acceleration appliance. Running on VMware's ESX/ESXi hypervisor and the Cisco Unified Computing System servers, vWAAS is designed to accelerate application delivery from private and virtual private cloud infrastructures. It supports on-demand orchestration on a per-application basis using policy-based configuration in Nexus 1000v, Cisco says. It is also interoperable with physical WAAS appliances and router-integrated modules, the company says.

Cisco also extended its line of Nexus fabric extenders, devices designed to broaden the reach of Nexus 5000 and 7000 switch fabrics closer to the server rack for greater scalability. The fabric extenders support Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet and/or 10G Ethernet ports.