The next generation data centre
03-08-2012 - John Hatcher
There was a time when all roads led to the data centre as the provisioning point of network, storage and compute services; located at the heart of a company’s mission-critical functionality universe. Today, all that has changed. Demands for operational efficiencies, sustainable business operations, dynamic service diversification and cost competitiveness are increasing, putting the data centre in the crosshairs of corporate scrutiny as its importance becomes greater than ever. While the role of the data centre remains much the same, how it fulfils that role is evolving rapidly. Convergence is under way, leading to the emergence of a “megascale data centre” providing computing, storage and communications infrastructure on a large-scale basis.
Forces Driving the Next Generation Data Centre
The growth of unstructured data and demand for rich media content are two of the key forces driving the evolution of the next generation of data centre. Additional market drivers that are also having an impact include the demand for real-time business analytics and the growing impact of cloud services from the likes of Amazon, Google and Microsoft. To meet these challenges, the data centre is witnessing a three-stage evolution at the computing, storage and networking substrates. Server virtualisation, globalisation and virtualisation of storage resources are already underway but the network substrate needs to evolve and follow in their exact footsteps. As the data centre becomes a strategic competitive asset for most industries, the network that powers it is emerging as a key competitive differentiator. These competitive forces are driving the need for a high-performance, powerful and cost-efficient network that enables resource consolidation, server and storage virtualisation, as well as simplified and scalable management of all data centre resources.
Optimising the Networking Substrate
At present, the underlying network for most data centres relies on Layer 2 (switching) and Layer 3 (routing) equipment, which was originally designed for minimal interactive and largely “media-free” legacy applications, such as: corporate e-mail, data entry for accounting purposes, records maintenance, customer trouble tracking and inventory control. But this architecture is restrictive for today’s media-intensive traffic and has a detrimental effect on the mobility of virtual machines, resulting in increased data centre capex and opex (and higher power consumption). As a result, data centres are likely to rely increasingly on connectivity options such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and traditional high-speed (Gigabit and 10 Gig) Ethernet to handle the burgeoning demands of media-rich content. The advent of 10-Gigabit Ethernet – allied to industry efforts to add key extensions to the Ethernet protocol to satisfy the requirements of storage and clustering interconnects – is set to enable convergence to a single, consolidated Ethernet-based network fabric, offering seamless access to the storage and processing resources that it supports.
Merchant silicon for Layer 2 and Layer 3 Ethernet switching will significantly improve resource utilisation at the link, switch and network levels. The advent of open and scalable control protocol management stacks will allow for seamless and live migration of virtual machines throughout the entire data centre. This flattening of the network substrate will fundamentally alter data centre economics and commoditise the data centre network.
The Next Generation Data Centre Network
To reduce the huge sprawl and associated costs of managing disparate networking, storage and clustering fabrics, the next-generation data centre network will be a “unified, flat and green” fabric. Using commoditised energy proportional switches, it will create large, flat topologies that can scale to tens of thousands of nodes, allowing for seamless virtual machine mobility. Control will shift from networking protocols to data centre operators, giving them the ability to apply policy-based traffic routing and intelligence and manage overall energy consumption. A complete commoditisation of the network substrate will dramatically lower acquisition costs and enable innovation at a higher level of the technology food chain.
This is a game-changer
The network’s evolution from a hierarchical model of tightly interconnected multiple networks to handle enterprise traffic towards a more integrated, single-layer and single-network model, will lead to lower operating costs and reduced power costs from consolidated data centre resources.The next-generation data centre is not optional, nor is it theoretical. It is real, it is here and it is evolving. It is also a game-changer for key suppliers to the data centre compute, storage and networking substrates.