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  • 30 September 2010 11:17

Tier today and gone tomorrow… how to reduce complexity in the data centre network

New technology can reduce five-tier architectures to only three tiers

By James Owens, Regional Director, Australia and New Zealand, Extreme Networks

Due to a number of factors, primarily virtualisation, consolidation and the move to cloud computing, data centre networks have grown in complexity in recent years, having expanded from the traditional three tiers to the latest five-tier architectures. However, new technology has begun to reverse this trend, bringing simplicity and reduced latency from a simplified two-tier network.

The traditional three-tier networks comprised the core, aggregation, and access (e.g. Top of Rack) tiers. When blade servers arrived, a new class of blade Ethernet switches began gaining popularity, introducing a fourth tier. And today, the virtual switch layer that is part of every hypervisor can add a fifth tier. Although the fourth and fifth tiers are being introduced through the server domain, the net effect is a five-tier architecture.

Because of limits to network staff and the need for energy efficiency and cost savings, today’s data centre network solutions must seek to reduce networking tiers, and do so by addressing all five tiers. This means eliminating tiers across both the physical network and within the server domain, which should be achieved without enforcing the use of proprietary ‘end-to-end’ data centre architectures, and without requiring a complete ‘rip and replace’ of existing switches.

Extreme Networks’ Direct Attach data centre architecture makes a two-tier data centre network possible and is available today. It takes a holistic view of the complexity challenge by presenting an architecture that eliminates tiers on both the server domain and the network domain. This is achieved by leveraging open, standards-based technology emerging in the IEEE.

The Direct Attach architecture reduces tiers in the server domain by handling switching of Virtual Machines (VMs) directly in the network switch. This allows VMs that communicate with each other on the same server to be switched directly at the network switch, eliminating the virtual switch. Since inter-VM switching happens at wire speed (1G to 10G moving to 40G), it delivers the unique advantage of complete network visibility to inter VM traffic.

All these benefits are available on existing Extreme Network products (Summit stackable and BlackDiamond chassis switches using a simple software upgrade.

Yet more advantages are available to organisations using blade servers. Extreme Networks’ solutions allow blade servers to connect directly into the core network switch layer in mid-size networks, or into the aggregation/distribution layer in larger networks - eliminating both the blade switch layer and the Top of Rack switch layer.

Two key enablers are: • Availability of very high fan-out switching modules on the chassis – up to 96 non-blocking Ethernet ports on a single I/O blade, or up to 768 ports in a single chassis. This eliminates the need for additional network tiers such as a ToR tier, to increase fan-out. These modules are available on existing BlackDiamond 8800 platforms, for investment protection.

• Commonly available MRJ21-cabling provides a 6:1 cable aggregation to eliminate cabling challenges associated with pass-through blade modules. This enables network architects to connect blade servers directly into the Black Diamond 8800 chassis using pass-through modules instead of blade switches.

The combination of these two enablers allows users to connect a blade server directly into the aggregation or network core in a non-blocking manner. It does away with the need for both the blade switch and a ToR or End of Row (EoR) access switching tier. What’s more, in order to support redundant active-active paths, Extreme Networks’ BlackDiamond Chassis solutions support multi-chassis link aggregation to provide full bandwidth and capacity utilisation across redundant paths.

Tier today and gone tomorrow…

By utilising VM switching capabilities directly in the network on the BlackDiamond chassis, and combining this with the high density fan-out modules and cabling solution, network architects can eliminate the virtual switch tier, the blade switch tier and the Top of Rack switch tier. The result: a two-tier, or perhaps in smaller data centres, a single-tier network - available today.

Extreme Network’s unique Direct Attach solution reduces or eliminates switching tiers both on the server side (virtual switch and blade switch) and the physical network side (such as the ToR tier).

The architecture achieves these considerable advantages without forcing new proprietary technologies on to the customer. It neither demands a forklift upgrade nor forces any new operating methodology. Instead it provides an open and smooth migration path without resorting to a ‘rip and replace’.

For more information

James Owens, Extreme Networks +61.2.8912 2405 or +61 (0) 430 166 691

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