Rise in Virtualized Data Centers Creates New Mix of Needs

Companies looking to virtualize their data centers now are going through the same process that IT managers went through 20 years ago and organizations should be taking radical steps to make their own infrastructures.

That's according to Forrester which, in a new report, The Data Center Network Evolution: Five Reasons This Isn't Your Dad's Network, has laid out the steps that companies should be taking to modernize their data centers.

According to the writer of the report, Forrester analyst, Andre Kindness, "This requires transforming today's bloated and static network into a dynamic, efficient, automated, and high-throughput entity".

The company has also revealed that although the push towards virtualization was prompted by many factors, the drive to keep costs down was a key part of most organizations' virtualization strategy. A survey carried out by Forrester found that 82 percent of businesses that had adopted x86 server virtualization thought that the need to lower cost was an important element in their decision-making. It was this that prompted 69 percent of companies to say that virtualization was part of its major strategy over the next 12 months.

To help with that drive, Forrester has proposed five key changes that must be employed: virtual switches; hybrid switches; mesh networking and flatter topologies; storage onto Ethernet; and a new network management structure.

When it comes to virtual switches, organizations should be looking at moving away from proprietary products and looking to adapt to a more open model. "Data center infrastructures are like a living organism that goes through many changes, and rarely are they at a point where one product can be locked in," wrote Kindness. He also warned of the danger of overtaxing hypervisors to the extent that performance flagged.

The emergence of virtual switches will also see the emergence of hybrid products to handle the physical and the virtual. Forrester has highlighted two emerging standards as key here - VNTag from Cisco and VMware and VEPA backed by HP, IBM, Intel, Juniper and others. Fortunately, wrote Kindness, "the two standards will be compatible with one another,"pointing out that many products will contain both technologies.

Many companies are moving to Ethernet for their storage needs and are using a single cabling infrastructure. There are four technologies driving this change, aimed at reducing latency:

802.1Qbb: Priority-based Flow Control (PFC); 802.1Qa - Enhanced Transmission Selection (ETS); 802.1.Qau: Congestion Notification (CN) and Data Center Bridging Exchange Protocol (DCBX).

The fourth key enhancement suggested by Forrester is the move towards flatter, meshed networks instead of the more traditional three-tier ones. According to Kindness, "Traffic has changed from being predominantly "north-south" (travelling from server to client) to "east-west" (traveling from server to server)." Forrester recommends using two forms of protocols - standards-based protocols such as IETF's Trill and IEEE's 802.1aq and vendor-specific protocols like HP IRF, Cisco vPC, Brocade VCS, and Juniper Virtual Chassis to help roll out the optimal topology.

Finally, the drive towards a new generation of data centers will need a new set of network management tools; software that can handle the mix of physical and virtual.

Forrester also warns of the need to ensure that data center staff is geared towards the new way of working and managers should be prepared for a period of training and assimilation. "The traditional teams that reported up to the CIO will evolve into pools for design,deployment, maintenance, and upgrades to service the advanced applications being deployed on the next generation network. To ensure the successful metamorphosis of staff alignment these pools will need metrics around standardization, repeatable procedures, shared resources, and self-service."

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