Switched on

From higher performance to lower TCO, the new generation of LAN technologies offers more to CIOs and network professionals

Tags: CableCisco Systems IncorporatedExtreme Networks IncorporationJuniper Networks IncorporatedNortel Networks CorporationUnited Arab Emirates
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Switched on Enterprises are very keen on cost cutting. - Rabih Dabboussi, systems engineering director at Cisco.
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By  Sathya Mithra Ashok Published  September 9, 2009 Network Middle East Logo

In the complex arena of networking, nothing might seem more routine than the technologies associated with Local Area Networks (LAN). However, the advances that are being made in the various components of LAN technologies, including the likes of cabling, switching and routing, have the capability to change the way enterprises operate and to add significantly to their bottom lines.

“Most of the developments in LAN technologies over the last 12 months have been around the area of data centre routing switches. This includes switches supporting Terabit architecture, high density 10G ethernet deployments, virtualisation and advancements towards 40G/100G ethernet backbones,” said Sari Ayoub, enterprise engineer at Nortel.

Almost all developments in the area of LAN technologies over the past few months have been fuelled by increasing demand for high performance, especially around bandwidth and associated applications.

“The physical layer as a whole has seen the most developments, mainly because the demand is actually driving it. Applications like the ones in triple play, which include IPTV, IP telephony and data, virtualisation, web 2.0 and video-on-demand – these are driving the entire physical layer to be pushed to the limit. One major part of this, the switching layer, I would think has seen significant improvements in the last 18 months,” explained Aziz Ala’ali, regional director MEA at Extreme Networks.

Samer Shaar, regional director at Juniper Networks for Middle East, Central Africa and Pakistan agreed: “LAN technologies in general, are now ready for high performance and this has been driven by market demands. The switching market is valued at US$17bn in 2009 and we can say 50% of this spend will be coming from Global 500 enterprises. These are the large companies that have one thousand and more employees. The public sector, including federal and state governments, and the education sector are also considering high performance networking across the switching platform as a standard requirement within their infrastructure.”

Naming improvements

Most of the major vendors that dominate the Middle East market have translated this growing demand into research and development around the switching area, which has resulted in new lines of products, that do more for less cost than their predecessors.

“The first component of our strategy with the new line was to simplify management, which we have done by enabling Junos as the single operating system across our solutions,” said Shaar.

“Our chassis-like software module, a concept called the virtual chassis, also simplifies network design by integrating virtual components. Resiliency was another important requirement, so was flexibility and scalability as well as low power consumption. These together form the value differentiation that we offer with our new switching products,” he added.

Reducing the power consumption of networking gear has also been a major focus of a lot of the innovations of the past 18 months.

“Extreme’s idea of going green started more than three years back,” commented Ala’ali. “The R&D was focused towards that aim and we started seeing the results a year and a half back. Today, due to the efforts we put in, our switches take just a third of the power that competitive switches use. All our switches in the field have this functionality.”

Another thread linking many improvements in networking infrastructure recently is the growing uptake of virtualisation.

Ayoub explained: “A virtualised data centre switch today would be able to support numerous absolutely separate and isolated entities each having its own routing schemes and totally separate resources. This is extremely important in multi-tenant environments, which are becoming very popular today, as more and more parties communicate virtually.”

Another trend is to increased modularity in hardware, which has been built into solutions  to take into account changing approaches to data centre design.  As most enterprises are adding to data centres as the need arises, instead of putting in everything they consider necessary for the next ten years from the start, so modularity has become more important for ease of expansion.

Most importantly though, most new technological developments across product lines seem to have been focused towards reducing both CAPEX and OPEX at the customer premises.

“Enterprises are very keen on cost-cutting. Both LAN technologies around power management and increased efficiency, as well as unified computing for virtualised services are helping enterprises around the world realize economic benefits,” said Rabih Dabboussi, systems engineering director
at Cisco.

Shaar stated: “One of the key reasons for clients to adopt a high performance platform is not only because it delivers on the technology part, but it also delivers the best TCO that is necessary. Customers are getting more for their investment – more features, more capabilities, more throughput, more user-friendly infrastructure – by paying less from a CAPEX and OPEX perspective.”

The ‘buy’ ratio

Adoption of new technology in the region is still a step or two behind the more mature markets.

As Ayoub puts it: “The adoption of these new technologies has varied from one region to the other. The need for terabit switching clusters, high density 10G ethernet infrastructure, virtualisation, and the support for 40G/100G backbone have captured the attention of the more developed markets due to the massive and crucial
role that IT plays in these more matured markets.

“In the Middle East region, there are early adopters of certain technologies and there are some technologies which get adopted after developed markets. The region remains slightly behind in the area of data centre technologies,” stated Dabbousi.

Ala’ali agreed: “On virtualisation and higher concepts like that we are almost on par with the rest of the world. On refreshing data centres to make them more scaleable, more modular I think we are still a couple of years behind. This does not mean that solutions are not sold or huge data centre projects are not happening. It is certainly occurring and you can be sure that before 2010 the majority of data centres here will be using these technologies.”

While some large enterprises, especially in the utilities sector, oil and gas, as well as government agencies, have been picking up products with the latest in innovations, the trend is yet to be felt in small-to-medium-size organisations. The continuing credit crunch is not helping matters much either, as companies hold on to their IT investments till they get through the worst.

Nevertheless, vendors believe that by the beginning of 2011 medium-size enterprises will begin to adopt these technologies in large numbers as the financial crisis peters out and they realise the value that these products can bring them.

Confidence in renewed adoption is being backed up with continued development on the innovation front by vendors, and they predict more advancements in infrastructure to come in the next 12 months.

“Application intelligence and optimisation will be one of the main highlights of the next year. It will help enterprises realise cost benefits and improved network utilisation. Data centre technologies will enable similar benefits, additional integration and higher capacity for the enterprise,” said Dabbousi.

Ala’ali said: “Security is going to become more critical and crucial, especially since people are going to go into applications as a service as well as virtualisation. As the demand on storage, whether iSCSI or fibre channel increases, the demand on the actual, switches, cables and routers are also going to become a lot more than we have seen so far.”

Shaar believes that virtualisation will lead the innovations surrounding network infrastructure.

“The next year will see higher throughput, higher processing capabilities, and virtualisation. This will result in allowing data centres to handle more bandwidth-intensive applications, serve a bigger number of users and network entities, address security concerns, and lower the capital and operational costs associated with data centre deployments,” added Ayoub.

Note to the CIO

With the various developments in the area of LAN technologies, and the many more to come, CIOs and IT managers can find themselves spoiled for functionality and choice. All the more reason, vendors say, to exercise caution when investing in and utilising the latest generation of solutions.

Ala’ali and Shaar urge IT managers to diligently calculate the return on investment and TCO of every solution before they bring it into their production environments, in order to avoid any surprises or problems in the long run. Ayoub meanwhile, asks CIOs to be more proactive in solving issues, and states that business concerns should dominate every decision.

As Dabbousi put it: “IT managers in the region should focus on business value and benefits, work with a vendor who can help them assess the overall architecture, and guide them to fully understand their requirements and how to solve their problems. The link between business and technology is crucial, IT managers need to fully understand business needs and requirements to be able to translate them into meaningful technology adoptions.”

As the effects of the slowdown wane, and organisations look to get back to business as usual, regional CIOs would be well advised to keep the above considerations in mind, as they start a new round of investment in LAN technologies.

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