Ethernet Fabric: The key to virtualisation success

Organisations in the region are already embracing virtualisation and the benefits it brings. To really realise these benefits, says Sufian Dweik, networks must evolve to support Ethernet Fabric technology.

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Ethernet Fabric: The key to virtualisation success Sufian Dweik is regional manager, Brocade Communications, Middke East.
By  Sufian Dweik Published  June 21, 2012

Organisations in the region are already embracing virtualisation and the benefits it brings. To really realise these benefits, says Sufian Dweik, networks must evolve to support Ethernet Fabric technology.

An organisation’s ability to enhance agility, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies hinges on building a powerful yet flexible IT infrastructure that gives employees the tools and information they need to react quickly to changing market conditions. Many organisations in the Middle East are turning to data centre virtualisation to build pools of flexible server and storage resources that can not only meet dynamic business requirements, but also help them consolidate resources, save on capital expenditure, reduce operational costs and improve management of their server and storage infrastructure.

This sounds great; the virtualised data centre delivers a plethora of benefits, but how can you successfully achieve this? There is a lot more to it than simply phoning a vendor and asking for help.

The foundation layer – the network – plays a vital role in the virtual data centre. Ignore this at your peril. The network infrastructure provides the performance, availability and mobility required in a virtual environment, but there are a myriad of challenges to overcome before conquering virtualisation.

The first is performance: If organisations look at the data centre as a supply chain, they can start to understand that making the compute environment faster and more efficient doesn’t necessarily make the entire process of delivering information to end users faster and more efficient. Secondly, organisations are also finding it expensive to deploy new infrastructure that is flexible enough to deliver the benefits of virtualisation, having invested heavily in existing data centres. Added to this, interoperability issues make it hard to deploy a flexible infrastructure that is capable of supporting multiple platforms and protocols.

Then there is the complexity. Virtualised environments are inherently complicated, relying on the constant movement of resources to meet changing traffic levels. While virtualisation reduces the number of hardware devices, the connections between servers, networking components and storage become much more complex.

Having said all this, the most pressing issue facing data centre managers when considering the deployment of virtualisation technologies is the network. Why? Let’s take, for example, the various forms of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) – such as server-based, client-based, terminal services, and application streaming – which all pose different requirements of the network. The weightiest and most common factors are typically those of latency, resilience, and availability. Most companies will go for server-based VDI, where the application data and operating system (OS) reside on a remote server in a data centre, providing high levels of data security. This requires a network that is “always on”, with high bandwidth and low latency.

It’s clear that the network must evolve to support virtualisation. It must be simple, scalable and resilient, and ready for the cloud (or ‘cloud-optimised’). Classical Ethernet topologies don’t offer this, so to achieve the virtual data centre organisations need to look to the future – to Ethernet Fabric technology.

Over the decades, Ethernet has evolved as user demands have changed. With the rapid expansion of the IT industry into new areas, such as virtual machines and cloud computing, traditional Ethernet’s limitations proved problematic. In time, Ethernet has evolved into Ethernet Fabric. Ethernet Fabrics, which represent the next step in the evolution of Ethernet solutions, are purpose-built for the new, virtualised, cloud-optimised data centres.

Ethernet Fabrics deliver flatter networks and eliminate manual configuration while providing non-disruptive, scalable bandwidth. They provide higher levels of performance, utilisation, availability and simplicity, while reducing operational cost. With the increased mobility that Ethernet Fabrics provide, companies can adequately prepare for a highly virtualised, cloud environment.

Ethernet Fabrics represent the next step in the evolution of Ethernet solutions. They are purpose-built for today’s virtualised, cloud-optimised data centres and need to be at the forefront of any strategy to introduce virtualisation on a large scale.

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