New Switches for Scaled-Up Architectures

Arthur Cole

Everyone knows that configuring switch architectures is no walk in the park. And now that cloud enthusiasts are looking to scale resources to unimaginable levels, that job is likely to get a lot harder.

But for those of you who can still appreciate the beauty of a well-designed server cluster (at least, after all the work is done), there are a number of new switching options that promise to make the underlying infrastructure not only bigger and faster, but more elegant as well.

Oracle, for one, has impressed many switch aficionados with its latest entry into the high-density realm. The company has released the Sun Network 10 GbE Switch 72p, a top-of-the-rack device that provides, you read that right, 72 10 GbE ports in a 1U chassis. The system provides 40 GbE uplinks for aggregating such a high number of blades and rack-mounts, with the added benefit of tying it all together with a quarter of the cabling needed for multiple lower-port-count switches.

About the only downside here, according to The Yankee Group anyway, is that Oracle, even with the Sun acquisition under its belt, does not have a lot of experience managing such large-scale networks. The company is still working to integrate the XVM Ops Center package into Oracle Enterprise Manager, but it lacks the kind of networking acumen that HP and IBM have gained through partnerships and acquisitions. If Oracle really wanted to ramp up its networking credentials, however, there is no lack of available targets that could do just that.

Not that I'm dropping any names, but Voltaire also happens to be out with a new 24-port 10 GbE switch, the Vantage 6024. It's a smaller switch, to be sure, but when linked to the Vantage 8500 switch through the company's Unified Fabric Manager, you gain a single logical entity capable of scaling up to more than 3,400 ports. That is, after all, the advantage of a strong network fabric -- the ability to ramp up the port count gradually, rather than shell out big bucks for a major increase all at once.

Is it possible, though, that all this router/switch nonsense could be a thing of the past in the next few years? Among the many demos at Research@Intel day at the Computer History Museum earlier this month was the RouterBrick, a server backplane that provides direct connectivity to the network. It comes with an aggregation feature that pools individual server ports into a single entity where they can be operated as unique entities for specific tasks or in tandem for heavier data loads.

In the early days of the Web, the catch-phrase (from Sun, coincidentally) was "The network is the computer." Now that we are all heading into the clouds at such a rapid rate and at the same time shifting focus away from servers and storage to networking, perhaps it's time to update that phrase to "The network is the data center."

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