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Changing of the guard

After years of data centres being held back by their own networks, things are finally progressing, argues Roy Rubenstein

N 14 FIBRE SYSTEMS Issue 3 • Spring 2014

etworking has become an inhibitor in the data centre. Whereas server and storage technologies have progressed steadily in the last decade, networking

has remained largely the same. But the growing discrepancy has told, putting networking under the spotlight and triggering an industry response. Last November, Cisco Systems launched its

broad-reaching Application Centric Infrastructure. VMware and others are promoting network virtualisation that places a network overlay above the physical network to simplify server communications. A third approach, soſtware- defined networking (SDN) using the OpenFlow open standard, is being pursued by the likes of HP. ‘What you are seeing is a wave of catching up,’

says Marten Terpstra, director of product marketing at Plexxi. Traditionally, applications have resided on dedicated ‘bare metal’ servers but usage has been

low – 10 to 20 per cent, typically. Virtualisation and the use of hypervisor soſtware splits a server’s processing into time slots to support tens of virtual machines, each with its own application and operating system, boosting usage to 70 per cent. Virtualisation has been adopted to boost server

performance, but its use has impacted data centre networking. Te introduction of server virtualisation has

given rise to virtual machine mobility and automation of workloads, and this is where networking becomes the laggard. Setting up server links requires the filling out of work orders and IT networking staff. Tis can take weeks to set up, whereas configuring virtual machines on servers can be performed in minutes. ‘It is holding you back from getting all the

benefits of server virtualisation,’ says Houman Modarres, senior director product marketing at Nuage Networks. ‘Connectivity is configuration- driven, which means it is operationally complex, to the point that you want to do it less oſten.’

Responding to demand In turn, newer data centre applications – cloud, high-performance computing, desktop virtualisation, and virtual machines migration – are changing the nature of the traffic flow in the data centre. Traffic has traditionally flowed up and down tiered switching, comprising top-of-rack,


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