Cisco is using the Nexus 1000 virtual switch and its unified computing system servers to power a multi-vendor data centre at the VMworld show in San Francisco. 

"This is one of the largest deployments of a single site virtual data centre ever rolled out," said Ed Bugnion, vice president and CTO of Cisco's server access and virtualization business unit told Network World. "Cisco is bringing virtualisation closer to the network, with direct visibility into the virtual machine. There are significant implications of virtualisation on the network. The network was designed with static machines, static data centers in mind."

There is nothing static about the Cisco Lab network. It isn't even hosted in a permanent room. Engineers from Cisco and VMware grabbed 1,700 square feet of hallway at the base of the escalators in Moscone Center and built the virtual data centre there. They designed and built it in two months, with the last couple of servers, running bare metal hypervisors, provisioned in two hours.

The data centre consists of 16 UCS systems total, running 512 blade, with a total of 1024 Intel Xeon 5540 Quad Core Processors (4096 cores) upon which it runs 776 ESX servers. It also runs Cisco UCS Manager. Each blade has 48 GB of memory upon which 40 virtual machines per blade are provisioned, five per core. The data center relies on two Nexus 7000 switches with two Cisco MDS 9500 switches connected to a multivendor SAN via 32 6120XP fabric interconnects. It uses both EMC and NetApp SANs, two units from each SAN vendor, hosting 37 terabytes of storage.

The whole shebang is expected to serve 4,000 online lab classes and 14,000 people over four days. At any given time, 1,500 users will be accessing applications hosted by the data centrer causing a total of 20,000 virtual machines to run. And yet the data center consumes a mere 528 kilowatts, compared to the estimated 95,329 kilowatts that would have been required to build an equivalent physical version, Cisco says. It fits on 17,000 server racks, compared to the 154,000 server racks needed if it were using physical servers.

Users at the show said that they were impressed by the data centre. One user said that he was heartened to see the multivendor SAN. Another said, "Makes me wonder if 10G is enough for what they're handling here."
Still others were impressed with the efficiencies on display.

"I'm looking at the numbers. The potential cost savings and power savings are incredible," said show attendee Navish Govindaraj, a director of product management for Informatica. He also added that the display is helping him conceptualise what an eventual multivendor cloud computing data center might look like.

VMware officials said that in the six years that the company has been doing VMWorld, the number of attendees for labs has doubled annually. It has been continually striving to increase capacity while maintaining a low, less power hungry footprint.