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Opportunities and Challenges with the Convergence of Data Center Networks
Ethernet and Fibre Channel are mature standards that have evolved over time thanks to substantial long-term investments, and both—along with Infiniband—have significant market share in the data center. However, due to the drive for larger, more efficient data centers, each of these technologies has faced significant scaling challenges. The development of extensions to these standards—in particular Data Center Bridging (DCB) and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)—have for some time been promoted as a way of providing the necessary capabilities for true network convergence.
In 2011, customers will finally be able to invest in convergence enabling equipment and begin reaping the benefits of convergence in their data centers. With the first wave of standards now complete—both the IEEE DCB enhancements to Ethernet and the INCITS T11 FC-BB-5 standard for FCoE—enterprises can benefit from server- and access-layer I/O Convergence while continuing to leverage their investments in existing aggregation, core LAN, and Fibre Channel backbones.
Also in 2011, products will emerge that not only provide 10-gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) but also 40GbE at the edge. These will be accompanied by fabric technologies to provide the necessary bandwidth for connecting the edges into a network that is optimized not just at rack scale but for larger regions of the data center. The price premium for 10GbE is slowly dropping, with lower cost converged network adapters and lower cost optics that allow data centers to reap the benefits of lower capital and operational expenses, thanks to convergence.
However, there is much more to come. Ten gigabit LAN on Motherboard (LoM) is largely a road map item. 10GBASE-T is still not power efficient enough to allow widespread deployment. There is no such thing as a standards-based fabric to connect it all together, and as networks converge, scalability issues get even more difficult. Other challenges also arise that need to be addressed before full network convergence can become a reality.
That said, enterprises can begin converging multiple network types at their own pace and within their particular cost and complexity constraints. As Ethernet continues to evolve, there will be many more opportunities—as well as many challenges—for network convergence. One such opportunity will be the ability to choose what to converge and at what cost. At a minimum, products can be purchased today with the confidence that they will continue to meet convergence requirements for years to come. This gives organizations the opportunity to evolve their networks over time, steadily gaining the benefits of convergence and dealing with the complexities of one step before moving to the next.
Juniper, which continues to be actively involved in both the DCB and FCoE standards setting efforts, has released its first generation of convergence products, and is fully committed to continuing the development of standards and products that will eventually make a fully converged data center network a reality.