Networking: The New Data Center Boss

Arthur Cole

The changes taking place in the data center are starting to affect the strategic thinking in boardrooms across the enterprise vendor community.

In short, servers and, to a lesser extent, storage are out and networking is in.

This is part of the fundamental shift in data handling that virtualization and the cloud have wrought. In an age where processing and storage capacity are available on an infinite scale, productivity is determined by how quickly and efficiently you can move data from place to place, not by how much your own resources can handle.

This week's announcement that Dell is buying Force10 Networks, a move that brings a robust Ethernet switching platform into Dell's broad IT portfolio, is only one of many developments on the enterprise networking front. Also worthy of note is Intel's decision to buy Fulcrum Microsystems, a maker of Ethernet switch silicon that supplies high-performance, lossless network and packet processing devices to a wide range of enterprise networking vendors.

At the same time, we have Chinese powerhouse Huawei looking to target the U.S. Ethernet market through its joint venture with Symantec. The move would add a strong portfolio of access, core and aggregation products to the channel, ranging from 1 to 52 GbE models capable of delivering backplanes ranging from 32 to 256 Gbps.

Of course, none of this bodes well for Cisco, the dominant networking company that has had modest success tapping into the server side of the house. As Rob Enderle explains it on TG Daily, increased activity tends to produce higher volumes and lower margins, as evidenced by the x86 market. And with former partners like Dell and HP now rivals, Cisco has a tough job ahead to become a leaner, meaner competitor. Witness the company's planned layoff of some 6,500 employees.

Meanwhile, smaller vendors are starting to focus like lasers on enterprises' new networking requirements. Extreme Networks, for example, just came out with a new line of Layer 2 switches aimed at bridging the traffic generated in the wired and wireless worlds. The Enterprise Access Switch family includes 24-port Power over Ethernet (PoE) and non-PoE models, and provides support for a wide range of devices including VoIP phones, security cameras and WLAN access units. They also tie directly to the company's ExtremeXOS edge switch for end-to-end network intelligence and automation.

To be sure, servers and storage will still play a vital role in data environments, but they are not likely to be the primary focus anymore. Going forward, speed and flexibility will define the data center, and that means networking is the new boss.

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