Data Center Fabrics: Enterprises Often Need a Networking Tailor

M. Spanbauer
M. Spanbauer

Summary Bullets:

  • Data center networking technologies are moving at a pace that few enterprises can keep up with
  • The networking provider of choice will impact cloud deployment plans and virtualization scale – so choose wisely

No one will argue that there have been more changes in networking coming out of the data center in the last 24 months than in the last ten years for the enterprise campus. This doesn’t demean the value of the campus, but rather highlights the standards and technology explosion inside the data center. Topics of debate and battlegrounds for vendor differentiation range from port speed and scale (1Gig to 100G) to protocol support and networking virtualization. Regardless, the standards remain in motion and a few standards in particular will have significant impact on the network architecture of choice for an enterprise. These include SPB & TRILL (competing standards to address spanning tree limitations), FCoE & DCB (storage over Ethernet and improvements to enhance iSCSI and existing storage over Ethernet), and of course virtualization insight and management of virtual switches. As several of these are not yet ratified, vendor support can only be gauged by stated intent (versus actually implemented).

It is critical to evaluate the roadmap and support plan of the vendor during the evaluation of its network gear to ensure it aligns with the business plans and IT roll-out for the technologies. Often, customers will short list two or three vendors to evaluate and commit to a proof of concept (POC) on, yet testing these in a fictitious lab environment is not possible due to the fact that these standards are not yet ratified or implemented. Therefore, enterprises must be even more diligent as they weigh the value of specific technologies between vendors, and assess the technology roadmaps as they align to their own business use case given the growth in public cloud service employment. While a truly agile, shared-service cloud is rare today it will become increasingly common in the coming 24-36 months, which will demand more from the network than ever before. However, depending on which services/applications are deployed in addition to how and where they are deployed, enterprises will need to manage both data center traffic, and/or strictly WAN to consumption (access device to public cloud) traffic.

A hasty choice today may lock an enterprise into a solution that will not sufficiently scale performance, tables, memory, security policies, etc. to meet their needs in this new shared model. Enterprises should challenge their vendors, as the status quo is no longer sufficient. Every vendor in the industry knows this and all of them have taken steps to increase their documentation, marketing programs, and vendor to vendor evaluation. It is up to the enterprise ultimately to choose which vendor they will be married to for the next two to three years at minimum, and a bad choice could mean the honeymoon will be over before the reception even begins.

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