No matter how enterprise infrastructure shakes out over the next couple of years, Ethernet will still be king. So it's no wonder that organizations are looking to build up their Ethernet LANs as much as possible and to forge the proper links to legacy Fibre Channel and InfiniBand networks on the way to a unified fabric.
Right now, the focus of both virtualization and cloud computing is scale. Data centers have struggled over the decades to provide enough resources to meet ever-increasing data loads. Now, along comes a technology that provides virtually limitless scalability in both compute power and storage so enterprise users are never left wanting again. That is, of course, if the network can handle the throughput demands.
The major networking vendors like Cisco and Juniper have been hard at work devising unified platforms that bring all forms of data and storage networking under one fabric. But in terms of raw I/O, we're starting to see some interesting developments from some of the smaller vendors.
One of them is Extreme Networks, which just announced new versions of its BlackDiamond 8900 core switch and Summit X480 stackable edge switch. The BlackDiamond 8900-xl provides both GbE and 10 GbE connectivity with double the Layer 2 and Layer 3 table size over the previous model, delivering up to 128 Gb per line card. The new X480 is a 48-port 10/100/1000 device with an optional VIM2 slot that provides for 40 GbE support over a four-port 10 GbE uplink module.
According to Computerworld's Jim Duffy, the beauty of the new switches is that they don't actually increase port density to achieve the higher throughput. Rather, they support 512K MAC and IP address tables, as opposed to the current 32k for the core switch and 16k for the edge. The move is a reflection of the increased use of virtual machines in enterprise environments.
Another new advance comes from Voltaire, which just unveiled the Grid Director 4036E InfiniBand gateway switch capable of a whopping 2.72 Tbps. Intended as a bridge between Ethernet networks, the 4036E provides a pair of GbE or 10 GbE ports that offer latencies as low as two microseconds, along with 34 non-blocking 40G InfiniBand ports. The company is eyeing high-volume environments such as financial services and life sciences, or large cluster or scale-out database operations.
The increased use of commodity server and storage systems has put increased pressure for productivity and efficiency on networking systems. Virtual I/O techniques have done wonders to increase throughput in and out of the backplane, but that still leaves a fair bit of network infrastructure in need of a performance boost.
Few organizations can afford a major forklift upgrade. But through targeted improvements to the core and edge, a fully functional fabric is within reach.