Getting to the Core of Advanced Networking

Whether you call it network virtualization, software-defined networking or fabric networking, it seems that all of the major initiatives taking place on the network these days require upgrades to the core switching environment.

This can prove to be both daunting and exhilarating for the IT team, with dreams of dramatically improved performance tempered by the severe fallout should things not go as planned. Fortunately, recent weeks have seen a number of new core switching technologies aimed at propelling the enterprise into 21st Century dynamic data infrastructure.

The 451 Research group pegged core router and switch upgrades as a top enterprise priority in the coming year, driven largely by the fact that many existing platforms are already struggling to keep up with data demands as they are now, let alone once mobile and cloud computing kick into high gear. The economy is likely to be a drag on investment, however, as a little more than a third of IT decision-makers are reporting budget increases this year, with nearly a quarter facing cuts. At the same time, core systems deployment is also competing with other infrastructure initiatives like wireless LANs and unified communications.

For those ready to pull the trigger, powerful new systems like the Brocade VDX 8770 are about to enter the channel. Designed for hyperscale environments, the platform features the company’s VCS fabric technology that aims to provide a simplified switching architecture even as infrastructure scales out to accommodate cloud-level traffic. The switch supports fabrics of up to 8,000 ports, capable of handling a whopping 384,000 virtual machines, all while maintaining port-to-port latency of 3.5 microseconds across 1, 10 and 40 GbE configurations. It also features Layer 3 connectivity, fabric trunking and TRILL-based Layer 2 ECMP for improved fault tolerance and network resiliency.

At the same time, the idea of a single core switch is starting to give way to a more distributed architecture. Chip designer Broadcom’s new StrataXGS Trident II switch is designed to more closely match the dynamic nature of SDN and the cloud through support of virtual LAN technology while at the same time delivering higher densities and advanced networking features. The Trident II is the first single-chip solution so support more than 100 10 GbE ports, enabling up to 1,280 Gbps at full duplex. It also features several new SmartSwitch technologies, such as Smart-NV that enables VM switching to support SDN and cloud-scale network virtualization, and Smart-Buffer that increases packet buffer utilization and burst absorption through dynamic traffic allocation.

HP is moving toward more distributed core architectures as well, recently unveiling several software upgrades to the FlexFabric core switch that allow it to seamlessly push workloads to as many as eight data centers. The Ethernet Virtual Interconnect system automates many of the configuration tasks required to connect distant data environments, while the Multitenant Device Context module cuts down on network hardware and creates distinct network environments within shared infrastructure. Along with the StorVirtual storage appliance, enterprises gain the ability to connect data across multivendor server platforms and hypervisor environments.

Regardless of how it is configured, the core switch will remain a key component of the next-generation data environment. As enterprise shift their attention away from resource management and more toward service and application delivery, the need to quickly and efficiently build up and tear down network architectures will assert itself.

The trick will be in finding the right platform that can provide the flexibility to support this level of dynamism without breaking the budget.

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