For much of IT history, advancements in networking followed a pretty steady path: Every year brought faster throughput and wider bandwidth, allowing server and storage arrays to shuttle data between themselves and the desktop community at a more rapid pace.
Starting a few years ago with the drive toward the cloud and converged networking, additional capabilities started to see increased demand: integration with wider data ecosystems, improved management and automation of both physical and virtual layers and the ability to accommodate rapidly shifting data loads without the need to maintain large amounts of idle or redundant overhead. In short, the network has stepped up to play an increased role in overall data center functionality, rather than just operational efficiency.
For 2012 then, networks will come under increasing pressure to meet the challenges of Big Data. Network test firm Ixia, for one, predicts that the increased deployment of virtualized server and storage resources will quickly push data loads past 10 GbE capability, making the need for 40 and even 100 GbE backbones a priority. At the same time, continued support for Fibre Channel over Ethernet beyond such stalwarts as Brocade, Cisco and HP will push greater integration of LAN and SAN infrastructure.
The need for higher-speed solutions will also start to blur the lines between carrier and enterprise solutions. Alcatel-Lucent, for example, is aggressively targeting the enterprise with systems like the OmniSwitch 6900, a top-of-rack 10/40 GbE device that the company hopes will provide the foundation of a switched network fabric for cloud computing and other advanced communications. Alcatel envisions "pods" of two to six switches corralled through an OmniSwitch 1000 core device capable of supporting upwards of 14,400 ports and 169 TB of capacity with latency as low as 5 microseconds.
Meanwhile, other vendors are warming up to the OpenFlow platform created by the Network Development and Deployment Initiative as a means to improve network flexibility through an open source forwarding instruction set. NEC recently released the Univerge ProgrammableFlow 10/40 GbE switch capable of providing 1.28 TB performance and providing a layered network configuration platform that separates services from underlying hardware. As well, IBM has added the BNT RackSwitch G8264 to its lineup of 10 and 40 GbE devices, providing up to 64x10 and four 40 GbE ports in a 1 RU footprint.
Networking will always be the glue that holds the enterprise together, no matter how distributed its resources become. But that doesn't mean it simply chugs along quietly while the remainder of enterprise infrastructure seeks new levels of functionality. Starting now, networking will not only be tasked with ensuring data connectivity, but with adapting to the changing conditions that data load dictates.