Answering the Question, 'What's up with the data center network?'

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Answering the Question, 'What's up with the data center network?'

By: Peter Bernstein, TMCnet Senior Editor

In the search for more knowledge about the incredible pace of innovation and change that is driving major network transformation by enterprises and service providers; it is always a good idea to review the postings of those on the front lines.  This is why the recent blog by Marten Hauville, Principal Solutions Architect (ANZ) for cloud networking specialist Alcatel-Lucent’s Nuage Networks  business unit and Co-Organizer of the Australian OpenStack User Group, caught my attention.

Hauville in his blog raises and answers a timely question, “What’s up with the data center network?” 

The reason this is so important is as Hauville notes, “We are in the midst of a transition in IT. Over the last couple of years the cloud has morphed from a disruptive technology on the periphery of IT into the mainstream.”  In short, the world is going cloud and data center-centric.

Of the three pillars—Compute, Storage and Network— that are the foundation of the move to a data center-centric, software defined and controlled applications-based world,  network historically has been a laggard when it comes to transitioning to next generation capabilities. However, as Hauville explains this is no longer the case.  Indeed, thanks to Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) the pace of innovation and adoption of cloud-centric transformations is accelerating.  Hence, what’s up in regards to the data center network is so relevant.  

Hauville starts with the assertion that: “Business competitive advantage these days is dictated by swiftness and agility, increasingly around business-driven applications that attain this advantage in the marketplace. This new edge is being pushed hard by enterprises that are adopting web-scale capabilities through software, drawing them into their inherent business products and practices.” He goes on to cite chapter and verse about how and why “Cloud IT” has become literally mission critical for enterprises in Australia and New Zealand. 

Having made the case for Cloud IT, Hauville poses the question about how to enable the cloud to drive greater agility across the whole business.  The answer is transforming the data center network. Yet, as he notes the Network presents some interesting challenges. In fact, the inability of Network to keep pace with Compute and Storage he says has led to a situation that, “Limits the overall efficiencies businesses could achieve from both their virtualization and initial private cloud investments.”

Cracking the network constraint challenge

What really caught my attention was the following statement by Hauville that: “This fundamental network constraint is not caused by the hardware capacities or bandwidth of the network. Far from it. The capacity and speed aspects of data centre networking have tracked well ahead of compute power with the availability and density of 10Gigabit, 40Gigabit and even 100Gigabit. The issue is due to limited evolution in the management, configuration and dynamism of these networks.”

I will not spoil why I have bookmarked the blog as a must reread reference. Hauville’s explanation of how the addition of next generation management, configuration, i.e., orchestration and control, can bring out the maximum value of all of the other technology upgrades taking place in data centers.  He then goes on to make a very cogent case for  Software Defined Networking (SDN) implementation as the means for achieving data center operational excellence.

Hauville closes with a caveat worth considering, “So if this future is set, and the underlying technology decision been made the key question now is not if you choose SDN but how you choose the right SDN implementation.”   

Unfortunately, despite the embrace of traditional solutions of open source solutions for SDN, not all SDN solutions are alike.  At an even higher level the caveat also should resonate since not all virtualization initiatives in general are not alike.  The facts are that interoperability issues are going to be a major challenge for SDN. They are also going to be an issue for the NFV solutions that service providers are beginning implement.  It will be fascinating to see how far and how fast the solution buyers will push the vendors to resolve these issues as internetworking and not just what goes on inside a data center or a federation of networked private cloud data centers comes to the fore.   

 Circling back to the question raised at the top about what’s up with data center networking, the answer is in two words, “a lot.”  And, the caveat to this answer is that same as Hauville’s.  Choosing the data center networking transformation technology that is right for your organization is a complicated challenge since there are options and vendors to be evaluated in the context of you unique requirements.  However, such transformations are no longer about if but when, and because of the nature of how business is changing a sense of urgency about making the right move should be a driver.

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