Who's Minding the Converged Data Center?

Arthur Cole

Network convergence in the data center is all about consolidating physical resources -- on one level at least.

But that consolidation will not be limited to blinking boxes or even software applications. A unified network means that two previously separate hierarchies -- namely networking and storage -- are about to come together. And since these two groups typically have vastly different ways of doing things, the stage is set for a clash as to exactly how the data center is to be managed from here on out.

What's driving this state of affairs is the speed at which the networking industry is embracing converged networking like Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). Earlier this month, we saw companies like Chelsio adding FCoE to its 10 GbE adapters, a move that at once preserves the functionality of Fibre Channel SANs, but places it on the more open and flexible Ethernet layer.

Now we're seeing that functionality extend all the way to the server. Blade Network Technologies has just joined with IBM to develop an integrated FCoE solution for the BladeCenter H platform. The deal brings Blade's Virtual Fabric10G switch module, plus a QLogic Virtual Fabric extension module, into the BladeCenter chassis, providing a means to access storage directly by bypassing rack-mounted gateway systems.

These kinds of developments are set to wreak a fair amount of havoc in the once-staid SAN community, according to Network Computing's Mike Fratto. Time was that virtually nothing could be added to the data center unless it played nice with the legacy SAN infrastructure. But once SAN functionality becomes part and parcel to the networking side, with all its freewheeling Ethernet and TCP/IP attitudes, a once cozy and lucrative business will be turned on its head. After all, to the networking side of the house, storage is only one of many considerations on the table.

The question of "Who's in charge here?" will not be an easy one for data center managers to answer, according to Tech Target's Dennis Martin. Does the converged switch fall under the LAN or SAN purview? And what about the new fleet of unified adapters? The more this process moves ahead, the more likely you'll have to come up with an entirely new organizational structure -- not an easy task by any means.

Of course, the easiest way to take on this problem is to get out in front of it. The reasons for a converged network -- efficiency, simplicity and lower costs -- should be plain to everybody by now. But fully explaining where all this is going, and making sure both the LAN and SAN groups know that significant changes are afoot, is the only way to help them get along once they're all in the same environment.

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Aug 4, 2010 8:45 AM Rachael Rachael  says:

Thank you. Very informative article. To add to the convergence .... I came across "All-in-One" server, storage, switch & router convergence and virtualization by a company called Fractioned. They build everything using high performance commodity hardware and open source software. This brings down the cost dramatically and pretty much eliminates vendor traps & lock-ins.

I thought it might be interesting route down the road to convergence (http://fractioned.net).


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