Ethernet Fabrics - Why You Should Care

January 14, 2015 Matt Jolly

Throw a rock these days and you will either hit a new Marvel movie or a datacenter. No longer just the brick and mortar warehouse where the NSA stores all your juicy metadata, the datacenter has gone mainstream. It’s not just for monolithic companies as even small to midsize organizations are embracing the datacenter. This is happening for two simple reasons:

  1. IT departments support more applications than ever
  2. Datacenters enhance the end-user experience by enabling fast access to applications. This is achieved by having strategic placement of datacenters so they are as close to end-users as possible.

The sole purpose of your network is to support these two initiatives. If it doesn’t, then your IT staff is simply a cost center, not an extension of value for business productivity.

Defining Datacenter Success

One of the keys to a successful datacenter is having a highly reliable, agile switching infrastructure. Behold Ethernet Fabrics, the future of modern network infrastructure. You can think of Ethernet Fabrics as a powerful platform for current and future growth. With the tools available, you can do things you never imagined with your network. Rather than blocking and tackling, Ethernet Fabrics allow your IT gurus and programmers too add value to the business.

What is an Ethernet Fabric?

But what is an Ethernet Fabric oh Geeky One? Fear not avid reader, this powerful technology is easy to understand. Composed of a number of extremely fast, reliable switches that communicate to each other in real-time, Ethernet Fabrics are essentially a single "entity". The switches look to end devices like a single switch even though there can be dozens of them in the fabric.

Ethernet Fabrics use the DCBX (Data Center Bridging eXchange) standard - also known as lossless Ethernet. Conceptualize the union of older technologies like Fibre Channel, which were extremely reliable, and the multi-path routing of classic IP networks and you have the guts of Ethernet Fabrics. You have access to all of your ports at all times with no worry of loops.

Under the hood is Layer 3 type features similar to OSPF. Multi-hop capabilities are provided. This means data will always find the fastest path from one point to another, wherever that is in the Fabric. All of this happens extremely fast and with no loss of data. It has to be this way in order for operators to consider the technology for use in server and especially storage environments. Ethernet Fabric connections are known as iSCSI when talking to storage and servers against the mature Fibre Channel type connections that have been traditionally used.

More networks are using iSCSI as their choice of connection to SAN and server due to the proven reliability, speed and lower cost per connection. Commonly found in 1Gb, 10Gb, 40Gb and 100Gb, Other Ethernet Fabric flavors such as 25Gb are becoming available. Ethernet Fabrics can also transport native Fibre Channel across the same network! Pretty cool yeah?

Be a Network Lover, Not a Fighter

Ok, cool features aside, why do I care about Ethernet Fabrics, you who probably should wear a pocket protector? If you are running a classic switched network, you’re well aware of the pain and suffering associated with features like Spanning Tree. Disabling valuable ports to prevent loops in your network and managing lots of separate switches is no doubt something you have gotten used to over the last 20 years. While IP networks have gotten faster and faster, the reliability of the technology has admittedly lagged.

Times are getting better for you though. Switches now have multi-core CPUs, lots of memory and programmable architectures. All this geek talk boils down to what you really care about; easy to use, highly scalable, reliable and resilient networks. You provide an easily accessible network for your applications and ensure that your end-users are happy with the experience. Circle of life complete.

From Cost Center to Value Creation

making money
 
Be honest. Does your department create value or cost?

At the top of this post, I mentioned that IT folks and programmers can be valuable assets instead of a cost center. Am I on something? Thank you for asking, but no. More companies than ever are turning this beautiful yet elusive vision of IT into a reality. Instead of being reactive, technical brain trusts are becoming proactive in organizations all over the world. The dreamers can imagine and pontificate and the tech weenies can finally turn those machinations into products. Instead of fighting with the network, automate it, so the geeks can move on to revenue generating activities.

If you are interested in learning more, reach out to your sales rep and have them pull one or more of our Solutions Architect team members onto a call. We can assess your current state and help you decide where you want to go with your network.

 

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