2012: The year of the network

The network we know is about to go through one of its most significant changes yet, as Penny Jones discovered at Interop New New York

30 January 2012 by Penny Jones - DatacenterDynamics

2012: The year of the network
How will the data center network change in 2012?

This last year has been dominated by network fabric announcements. At the start of 2011, the appeal seemed to be only for the large, forward-thinking enterprise. Fast-forward to Q4 and the Cloud has picked up so much pace it looks like the network fabric will be one of the big requirements for 2012, the year the network is likely to come into its own.

But it is not just the extension of the network outside of the perimeter of the data center. Network operators are also struggling to find ways to drive data faster across servers, creating shortcuts for content as the network struggles to cope with increasing multimedia and application demands. If cloud computing is going to be the trend in 2012, the network will be its bottleneck.

HP Networking VP for global marketing Mike Banic said Gartner estimates that by 2014, network planners should expect more than 80% of traffic in the data center network to be between servers. It also said that by the end of next year, half the enterprise applications that are used will be virtualized, and the amount of bandwidth in the rack itself is likely to grow by ten times. Much of this is due to the shift from the hardware-focused data center to one that is more reliant on software – applications for the cloud, virtualization, automation, management tools and so on.

VMware SVP and general manager for cloud infrastructure management Ragu Raghuram believes the data center will eventually become completely automated. “[Those behind] new data centers believe that hardware will fail and they count on the software to smartly lead them through hardware failures. The benefit is you can apply automation across a large scale in a repeatable, policy-driven fashion to get to very high numbers of administrators per virtual machine. This is being done today, but in very few data centers, and only in data centers that can afford to deploy this,” Raghuram says.

When this does happen, Raghuram says the storage network and security will be its failure. “It really is the storage network and security that needs to change. VMware is working on preconfigured network demands to allow communications between machines based on policy, as well as easy ways to carry out load balancing to cater for traffic needs, all under one virtual appliance. “This is sometimes called the software-driven network,” Raghuram says.

VMware’s VXLAN, developed with Cisco and handed to the Internet Engineering Task Force for standardization this year, has been designed to carry out such tasks across dispersed data centers, over a flat Layer 2 network.

Network evolution

It is exactly the type of solution that HP’s CTO of networking, Saar Gillai, says the industry needs. He offered a perspective on the changes seen in the network thanks to cloud computing and the challenges these bring. In the 1960s the network was based on mainframes. “They were sort of the network, and sort of this wire that was connected. It is all very proprietary,” Gillai says.

The network became democratized as compute capability became more widely used. “We moved to client server, but it was still mostly about connectivity. Most applications ran on servers, or you needed to access the database over a LAN. It was not really about the network.”

In the 1990s, the network was forced to carry web traffic and applications, and while it wasn’t Software-as-a-Service, the back end had network requirements for web servers, databases, etc. “Now with cloud computing it is fully networked. You are accessing the network from different places in the cloud. This essentially means we have been on this journey, where the application has become more reliant on the network. If the application relies on the network, you need bandwidth – proper east-to-west capacity – and you have to have resiliency and dynamic capability.”

Network devices

This new dynamic network environment removes the stability the network has relied upon. “It might have been difficult to set up your VLANs and so on, but you did that once and didn’t need to do it again for another year,” Gillai says. “Today the situation is different. Everyone has to have some access to data – employer, vendors and partners.”

Distributed data centers, open applications – all these new elements remove static from the network. According to Gillai, the only solution will be change. “You can’t use the existing architecture. The set and forget mode doesn’t really work because it means you take forever to roll out services. [Then there is] overprovisioning, but requirements for bandwidth are so much higher. You can’t create a bunch of physical overlays – separate physical networks – because this is expensive and difficult to manage,” Gillai says.

Raghuram says the industry is working to solve these challenges, and large-scale data centers have already figured out the benefits. “They can be elastic and mobile, giving lower costs per application,” Raghuram says.

From VMware trying to virtualize everything, to HP and Cisco driving standards and trying to increase management, the network is about to shift from an enabler to a much smarter part of the data center.


This article first appeared in FOCUS 19. To sign up for future editions, click here.


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