Are Hyperscalers Taking Over Enterprise Network Design?

The dynamic between enterprise IT and the technology vendor community has been steady throughout the ages: vendors develop new systems and IT deploys them. Lately, however, that relationship has started to crack under the demand for increasingly personalized and customized solutions.

Hyperscale providers, and Facebook in particular, are at the vanguard of this movement, driven primarily by the need for massive infrastructure and their ability to spec their own hardware requirements directly from ODM manufacturers in the far east. And not surprisingly, this trend is now taking a decided turn into networking infrastructure.

Facebook recently unveiled its Backpack 100G modular switch, according to 1redDrop’s Shudeep Chandrasekhar, which will supplement the existing Wedge 100 switch with rack-level fiber-optic connectivity. The emerging platform will form the heart of the Open Compute Project that Facebook is offering as a free reference architecture for the data center industry. While this solution would go up against entrenched legacy networks from Cisco, Dell and others – all of whom are working on their own 100G and higher solutions ­– Facebook has the advantage of providing an open system plus a world-class production environment with which to showcase its prowess.

Most enterprise data centers are not hyperscale, of course, so it is fair to say that Facebook’s networking needs do not match those of the industry at large. But that may not be the case for much longer. Cisco’s latest Global Cloud Index report claims that by the end of the decade more than 90 percent of all data center traffic will be in the cloud. It states further that fully half of this traffic will flow through 485 hyperscale facilities around the world. As the enterprise becomes more dependent on the cloud, legacy data infrastructure will likely evolve along converged and hyperconverged lines that will reduce the networking and hardware management responsibilities of IT shops while at the same time fueling the need for even more advanced solutions for regional hyperscale facilities..

Facebook, in fact, is already partnering up with leading cloud providers to promote optical switching and other technologies for high-speed, data-intensive workloads. In an ongoing collaboration with Equinix, the company is testing its Voyager telecom-style packet switching system between two scale-out data centers in California. The effort is intended to determine the effectiveness of DWDM for disaggregated hardware and software networking models, preferably deployed on commodity, white box infrastructure. A key question is whether such a framework can provide an effective “physical aggregation point” even as the network itself becomes increasingly disaggregated to achieve faster speeds and support larger volumes.

With these and other cloud-facing projects in the works, it is clear that Facebook will ultimately influence the behind-the-scenes development of networks and data center architectures, says ZDnet’s Larry Dignan. Through both the Open Compute Project and the Telecom Infrastructure Project, under which the Equinix tests are being conducted, the company is laying the groundwork for geo-distributed data environments that rely on advanced networking and software-defined technologies to provide seamless interoperability across great distances. And since it is a technology customer, not a vendor, Facebook has a strong incentive to make sure the design resists proprietary solutions as much as possible.

All of this is happening, of course, under the backdrop of Big Data and the Internet of Things, which not only generate more data but more complex relationships between data points. There is little question that legacy networks are ill-equipped to handle these challenges, having been designed for the relatively static data environments of yesteryear.

But the transition to advanced digital services is happening quickly and the job of swapping out legacy infrastructure for open, distributed frameworks is enormous. Facebook and other hyperscalers bring a lot of clout to this movement, but it will require an industry-wide effort to ensure that it proceeds smoothly.

Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for Enterprise Networking Planet and IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.

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