Enterprise storage networking has gradually improved in raw bandwidth but, otherwise, has remained more or less static for over a decade. That is about to change. Networks are no longer merely pipes for transporting data — they are becoming intelligent, taking an active role in moving, storing, securing, and processing data. We are entering a Network Renaissance that will transform enterprise data centers and displace legacy storage networking technology with Ethernet Storage Fabric (ESF).
The Ethernet interconnect market continues to grow rapidly and storage networking is a significant factor in this growth. There are three primary drivers positioning ESF as the networking technology of choice for the next generation of data centers: performance, intelligence, and efficiency.
The key requirements for any storage fabric is a high performance, intelligent, and efficient end-to-end network solution that is optimized for storage and can reliably, efficiently, and securely deliver all manner of data. Today Ethernet wins on every metric with network automation and optimizations for all modes of storage. Converged Ethernet natively supports and accelerates advanced compute paradigms such as virtualization and containerization, while simultaneously accelerating storage protocols and providing the flexibility of software defined storage (SDS) and the economics of a vibrant, competitive ecosystem.
Ethernet solutions offer unmatched performance with speeds of 100Gb/s readily available today, including adapters for servers and storage as well as networking switches and copper and optical interconnects. Moreover, Ethernet offers price/performance leadership delivering 3X the performance of traditional storage networking technology at 1/3 the price. Looking to the future, 200Gb/s and 400Gb/s products are right around the corner.
The public cloud providers were the first to realize the superiority of the technology and adopt Ethernet as an integrated compute, communications, and storage fabric, which has given them an advantage over traditional enterprises using legacy SAN technology. But not just any Ethernet will work. At the most basic level, an Ethernet Storage Fabric needs to offer security and reliability equal to traditional SAN technology. So it is crucial to have Ethernet switches that offer low-latency, zero-packet-loss, and the option to support lossless networks with Data Center Bridging. Furthermore, to achieve the performance, scale, and efficiency of the cloud, it is important to seamlessly support Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA), storage reliability, and deliver quality of service in a multi-tenant environment.
As part of the deployment of Ethernet as their storage fabric, the public cloud and web-scale providers have implemented software defined storage, converged, and hyper-converged architectures. ESF technology has been integral to the data center transformation, enabling forward-thinking enterprise storage architects to achieve the same flexibility, agility, scalability, and economic benefits as the giant hyperscalers.
Intelligent networks are the next critical element for a true ESF technology. More specifically, intelligence that is storage aware and provides for automation, provisioning, security, isolation, and management of data. Historically, this type of storage aware intelligence was only available with traditional SAN technology but is now available for Ethernet switches.
Today, Ethernet delivers the most basic characteristics needed of a storage fabric, including the option to be configured as a lossless network with Data Center Bridging. Beyond this, Ethernet now fully supports all the required storage intelligence features: automation, security (both port and logical drive), automated discovery, name services, and provisioning.
Perhaps even more important, Ethernet has evolved more rapidly than other storage network technologies to support advanced features such as virtualization and containerization, hypervisor virtual switch acceleration, and multi-tenancy support using overlay networks such as VXLAN. Advanced Ethernet solutions accelerate these functions and free up CPU resources to run application workloads. These same capabilities can be applied to storage to improve efficiency of servers and storage infrastructure, which is critical in a world that is increasingly virtualized, containerized, and software defined.
Networking efficiency fundamentally benefits from ESF simply because a single unified networking technology is more cost-effective from both a CAPEX and OPEX perspective. Having a single networking technology to manage is always simpler than needing to support a separate, dedicated SAN technology. This is true whether the ESF is deployed as a separate dedicated storage fabric or as part of a converged network. In either case, the scale and competitive ecosystem of the Ethernet market provides significant cost advantages over traditional SAN technology.
Moreover, by today’s standards, primary, block-based storage is only about 20 percent of the overall deployed storage capacity. With an ESF, the network can also naturally support not just block, but also file, object, and hyper-converged storage architectures — again, dramatically improving the overall efficiency of the data center. Lastly, ESFs work out of the box and have built-in acceleration for storage, virtualized, and containerized environments that deliver total infrastructure efficiency. Intelligent hardware accelerators such, as RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE), allow data center operators to do more work with their existing server and storage infrastructures than is possible with traditional SAN technologies. For all of these reasons, an ESF offers significant efficiency advantages over traditional SAN technology.
The storage market was revolutionized with that advent of Networked Attached Storage (NAS) and Storage Area Networks (SAN) in the 1990s. By decoupling storage from computing, these storage networking technologies dramatically improved the utilization, efficiency, performance, and reliability of storage solutions. However, traditional fibre channel SAN technology has stagnated. Today, Ethernet wins easily when evaluating storage networking technologies on the original metrics of performance, intelligence, and efficiency and adds new capabilities for a data-driven, virtualized and containerized, cloud native world. As a result of all of these advantages, we are about to embark on a network renaissance with ESF transforming the enterprise data center.
Kevin Deierling is VP of Marketing at Mellanox