Ethernet fabrics: a data centre essential

Brocade explains the importance of Ethernet fabric networks

Tags: Brocade Communications Systems Incorporation
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Ethernet fabrics: a data centre essential Sufian Dweik, regional manager, MEMA, Brocade Communications.
By  Sufian Dweik Published  March 24, 2013

In today's IT environment, more devices, a deluge of data, decreasing costs to transfer data, and server virtualisation have triggered a transformation in the data centre that will no doubt lead to multiple data centre advancements during the next five years. Previously exclusively deployed by large enterprises, it is now common to see small and medium organisations with their own data centres. No longer are data operations handled from a server room and a switch closet.

Last year, network managers in the Middle East witnessed the growing popularity of Ethernet fabrics. The trends that were the driving force behind this are set to remain valid though 2013 as well. A sampling of analyst numbers reveals the true significance of these trends. According to IMS Research, 22bn devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020. These devices have an unprecedented ability to create and consume data. Alongside these devices creating data, organisations are digitising and storing an incredible amount of raw data. IDC and EMC forecast that by 2020 the world will have 35 zetabytes of data on hand. Such astronomical growth is possible because the cost of transferring data has decreased while the speed to transfer it has continued to increase.

Another driving trend, server virtualisation, has been brought about by the desire to control costs and increase utilisation. The increasing use of server virtualisation, which removes the hardware dependency that existed between applications and the underlying hardware is causing data centre architects to rethink the current, traditional three-tier network design and consider a migration to a flatter network design.

The cost and time savings of server virtualisation are tremendous and virtualising applications unleashes great opportunities. The difficulty, though, is that server virtualisation changes the dynamics of network traffic from a north-south pattern to a multi-directional pattern. Moreover, Gartner predicts that by 2014 more than 80% of network traffic will be server to server. This will force next-generation data centres to change in an unprecedented fashion.

Mix this with one of the overriding trends for 2013, migrating to the cloud, and you can see why network architects are looking for ways to build more powerful, flatter networks that can support higher traffic loads and increased east-to-west traffic in virtualised environments, all while avoiding network congestion. Collapsing network layers also reduces complexity, which lowers overhead costs and reduces risk. This type of design, however, requires high-density, high-bandwidth network components that deliver full wire-speed connectivity.

Data centre networking infrastructure is key to ensuring necessary performance improvements and Ethernet fabrics have been specifically designed to improve network utilisation, maximise application availability, increase scalability and dramatically simplify network architectures in these highly virtualised data centre environments. Another welcome addition to fabric networking trends is the introduction of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) performance, which further boosts network capacity in order to meet increasing bandwidth demands.

We are seeing first-hand how Ethernet fabrics have revolutionised the data centre providing a roadmap for increased and even guaranteed performance and service availability, while delivering a flexible "pay-per-port" pricing model for customers.

Ethernet fabric allows external servers to link to data centre networks on a pay-per-port need, negating the need for customers to maintain a separate switch environment. Customers no longer have to maintain external switch environments and data centre operators are creating a less complex, reduced-cost service in the cloud minus the redundant layers of management and manpower.

The growing popularity of Ethernet fabric from a commercial perspective is that it also directly addresses the biting back on vendor lock-in. Ethernet fabric does not require a rip and replace of every part of an existing network. Consumers and organisations alike no longer respond to the concept of being "shackled" to specific vendor offerings. They are looking to trusted vendors to deploy flexible and scalable solutions, even within multi-vendor environments. In the networking space, choice has become imperative and integrated offerings continue to break into the mainstream.

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