- Cliff Grossner, Ph.D.  director of strategic marketing, Alcatel-Lucent (

http://www.alcatel-lucent.com), says:

Many Choices, Lot of Risk

2012 has been labeled the year of the data center fabric. However, it’s still early in the standardization and deployment of data center fabrics, and enterprises are faced with a large number of choices that can spell the difference between failure and success. Hype aside, only early adopters have deployed real fabrics to date.

A properly architected data center fabric has the potential to bring the performance, scalability and elasticity to the data center required by today’s virtualized applications and when connecting to Cloud services. Choosing wisely when deploying a real data center fabric can unleash the, as yet, untapped potential from existing investments in server visualization platforms.

The marketplace is abundant with solutions offering vastly different and sometimes confusing alternatives. Choices in selecting a fabric include the technology used to virtualize the network enabling any to any server connectivity, technology for automating virtual machine (VM) mobility, technology for implementing virtual switching (vSwitch), and technology for convergence of storage traffic onto the IP network.

Help With Some Tough Questions

There are many competing technology options to be investigated for network virtualization, vSwitch and storage convergence. Many new standards are emerging to help. Some suggestions for consideration are as follows:

Network Virtualizationwith Shortest Path Bridging IEEE 802.1aq (SBP) a newly ratified standard that also has undergone a multi-vendor interoperability test in Q4 of 2011. SPB has distinct advantages of being scalable from the very small to the very large, being compatible with protocols already in use in the service provider Cloud and being able to provide the ability to easily shuffle resources within a single data center site or between data center sites to optimize resource utilization and ensure quality application delivery. In effect, using SPB enables creating a cloud-like elastic environment for the enterprise.

Virtual Switching delivered by the top of rack switch rather than on the server leveraging the Virtual Edge Port Aggregation IEEE 802.1Qbg (VEPA) standard, providing a single point of control, management and security significantly reducing management complexity. This approach is also hypervisor agnostic allowing freedom to choose which hypervisor to use or even more than one hypervisor in the same data center.

Storage Convergence enabled with Data Center Bridging IEEE 802.1Qbb, IEEE 802.1Qau and IEEE 802.1Qaz (DCB) standard. Providing DCB enables a choice for the customer concerning storage convergence as to which technology they use (iSCSI, FCoE, or FC) and a choice of “if and when” they wish to push forward with a single network for data and storage.

Alcatel-Lucent’s Award Winning  Mesh: Provide Choice, Reduce Risk

Alcatel-Lucent’s strategy with its data center switching solution, or fabric, is to take a very practical approach. This means that the customer has the choice to set their strategy in the data center and not be locked in by technology choices, such as in choosing when and if to converge their IP and storage network. In addition, Alcatel-Lucent’s solution provides the scalability and associated linear cost model to allow a pay as you grow approach for the customer and also avoids the need for a high risk forklift approach.

Alcatel-Lucent’s vision for the data center is application fluency where the network infrastructure is capable of optimizing resources to ensure the best possible user experience and reduce complexity for the IT team.  To improve end-user productivity, an application fluent network also features automatic controls for adjusting application delivery based upon profiles, policies and context. Application Fluent Networks also deliver streamlined operations through automated provisioning and low power consumption.

An application fluent data center network essentially transforms an enterprise data center into a multi-site private cloud: a single, seamless, highly elastic cloud-type environment. This gives the flexibility to reconfigure data center resources quickly and easily.  Alcatel-Lucent’s data application fluent center network solution can be easily integrated with Alcatel-Lucent’s CloudBand carrier cloud solution, creating a hybrid cloud model where employees can access a wide array of data and applications anywhere and on any device.

The Alcatel-Lucent Mesh is based upon standardized technology as follows:

  • Network vitalization with SPB

  • Virtual switching with VEPA

  • Storage convergence with DCB

A Prudent Approach

Given the current state of the technology and the market when it comes to selecting and deploying a fabric in the data center, it is best to be risk adverse. Selecting to deploy a fabric that can scale from the small to the large, both in architecture and cost model, will allow your organization to become familiar with the technology and transform the data center in a controlled fashion. This can potentially be done by rolling out a fabric with the migration to 10GigE servers without requiring a forklift of existing infrastructure.

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