Networks Go Flat So Data Can Go Faster
Today’s application requirements place new demands on the data center network fabric to deliver non-stop, ultra-low latency traffic flows. This traffic is increasingly “east-west” in nature to enable server-to-server communications versus the “north-south” traffic that characterizes conventional client/server and Web-based application environments. In fact, today, as much as 80 to 85 per cent of the traffic in cloud and virtualized server infrastructures – moves from server to server.
Deployment of the network fabric to serve these “east-west” requirements ideally begins at the edge of the network, close to servers, applications, users and innovation. So, today’s evolving data center architectures start with building out the fabric at the edge, connecting multiple blade servers, racks or systems, and eventually connecting multiple data centers. This is all about allowing clients to take advantage of fabric technology without expecting them to undertake an expensive and resource intensive forklift upgrade. That’s why starting at the edge makes a lot of sense.
For the intensive machine-to-machine communications required for server virtualization, cloud computing and high performance computing applications such as high-frequency trading, latency should be as close as you can possibly get to zero. There is the basic latency associated with the speed of light and the transmission medium, so as close as you can possibly get to zero defines the ideal. People in the industry have used the term the race to zero latency as a way of describing this insatiable quest for driving latency out of the system.
Clients are deploying IT infrastructure on an unprecedented scale. For example, data centers that were deploying five to six thousand servers on an annualized basis are now are routinely looking at deploying an order of magnitude more server infrastructure. So the scale at which these clients are deploying server infrastructure and storage capacity is huge. And if the network fabric that is connecting these servers and storage devices does not scale along with servers and storage, then you’ve got a problem.
While on one hand, clients are staring down the barrel of deploying an order of magnitude more servers and storage infrastructure than they ever have before, on the other hand they’re also concerned about ineffectiveness as it relates to utilization of their IT infrastructure. A big focus for enterprises is to increase the utilization of their IT infrastructure. The airline industry calls this yield management. The hospitality industry calls this occupancy rates. In the context of the data center, this is all about maximizing the utilization of IT infrastructure.
We in IBM System Networking agree with The Register’s Timothy Prickett-Morgan who in an insightful article “No More Tiers for Flat Networks,” writes, “For companies that need network traffic to move more efficiently at higher bandwidth and with lower latencies, then a leaf-spine network that has a flatter architecture, or perhaps a fat tree network inspired by supercomputers or a Clos network inspired by telecommunications, might be just the ticket.”
The definition of an ideal fabric is one that does not require clients to jump through hoops, change out servers or add unnecessary complexity. A good fabric should be one that can provide connectivity for the client’s existing infrastructure. That’s why IBM is a big proponent of standards, because we fundamentally believe that standards can bring not only the most innovative solutions to marketplace, but also deliver solutions that don’t lock clients into a particular type of technology or a specific vendor.
The data center network is going through a major transformation to support server virtualization and cloud computing, convergence of data storage, server-to-server traffic and new high-performance applications. To address these needs, the data center network fabric, the system network architecture that interconnects server devices and storage devices in a data center environment, has become a critical lynchpin of data center architecture. And the move to flat networks is enabling the fabric to help data go faster. And for today’s requirements, faster is most definitely better.