Short Hops on the Road to Unified Networking

The race to the unified data center architecture is devolving into a tit-for-tat competition among the top networking providers, leaving many enterprises to wonder if developments are geared toward improving data environments or capturing market share.

The week kicked off with Cisco’s announcement of a new Unified Network Services portfolio. The package includes a new set of switches, new members of the Unified Computing family and new virtual Wide Area Application Service (WAAS) and security components. The overriding goal, long stated by the company, is to provide a broad platform capable of delivering any network service across any computing environment through a joint Unified Fabric/Unified Computing framework, all the while reserving full control of data to the enterprise even if the environment stretches onto the public cloud.

The backbone of this architecture, of course, is the switch layer, to which Cisco added several key components. The Nexus 5548 doubles port density to 48, each of which can be configured as either Ethernet or Fibre Channel using an expansion slot. In addition, there is a new fabric extender for the Nexus 5000 that provides additional deployment options for low server-density environments, including the ability to tie into the Nexus 7000 for large-scale 100M/1Gb connectivity. There’s also a new Catalyst 6513-E chassis capable of 2 Tb switching capacity.

Not to be outdone, Brocade announced a new MLXe core router and accompanying blade, the first to tout the new 100 GbE standard. The set provides backward compatibility with MLX, MLXe and NetIron blades and routers and helps drive the MLXe fabric to more than 15 Tbps capability. The router is available in 4-, 8-, 16- and 32-slot configurations while the blade will top $200,000 for a dual 100 GbE port configuration.

Brocade also announced a new unified management platform that brings full SAN and IP control under one roof. The Brocade Network Advisor spans the full gamut of IP and Fibre Channel/FCoE SANs, as well as wireless networks and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks. The package aims to provide for non-stop network availability and improved application optimization and is designed to provide a seamless upgrade path from either the IronView or Data Center Fabric Manager stacks.

The steady drip of unified data center products is testament to the fact that this magnitude of architectural conversion is going to be a journey, rather than a quick technology fix. Full unification will probably elude even the most advanced data centers for many years to come.

The measure of success, then, should not be gauged upon what a fully unified architecture will provide when all is said and done, but whether each step on the journey provides a meaningful return on both profits and productivity.

Sure, the top vendors are angling for bigger market share, but it’s in your best interests to ensure that their solutions are both effective in the short term and expandable as the unified strategy plays out.

To paraphrase Franklin: “Watch the components, and the network will take care of itself.”

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