Smarter Switches Will Simplify IT Management

Michael Vizard

At the rate things are going, the network layer will soon be able to manage everything it touches.

If you haven't been paying attention to the networking layer lately, there's been a lot of innovation at the Layer 2 switch layer. It started with a lot of work from Cisco, but since then we've seen the emergence of two evolving standards. The first is called Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) and is being facilitated by the IETF.

The second is the Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) protocol, which is an emerging IEEE standard. One of the first instances of the SPB protocol is a new Virtual Network Enterprise Architecture (VENA) from Avaya. Conversely, one of the first instances of TRILL can be seen in the Brocade One architecture that Brocade recently highlighted in the Brocade VDX 6720 Data Center Switch series. TRILL also has the support for both Cisco and Juniper.

There's still a lot of arguing to be done over the merits of either of these approaches. But what matters for now is that they are both candidates to replace the archaic spanning tree protocol. Why we care about this is that it puts more intelligence at the network layer, which sets the stage for all kinds of future convergence. In particular, we need enterprise networks to evolve to the point where they can track virtual machines and application workloads across the network. Once we have that capability, we can then more easily manage applications and their associated IT infrastructure as a single logical entity.

In effect, that means that instead of manually tracking all the components, we can really start to think in terms of IT services comprised of virtual machines, servers, storage and the network infrastructure that ties them all together.

According to William Seifert, chief technology officer for Avaya Data Solutions, the advent of smarter switches will lead to more self-discovery of assets on the network. That ability is what attracted companies such as VMware, Silver Peak Systems, QLogic and Coraid to announce their support for VENA, said Seifert. VMware, in particular, wants to see more adoption of intelligent switches in order to set the stage for the next generation of virtualization, which includes the ability for virtual machines to dynamically move across the network using a product from VMware known as vMotion.

It will take a while to upgrade enterprise networking infrastructure. But it's clear that the next generation of enterprise networking is going to be defined by a new era of smarter switches through which everything from applications all the way down to individual ports will all soon be holistically managed.

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