Tag Archives: data centre

Appalling state of Storage Networks

In the IT world a panic is most often related to a operating systems kernel to run out of resources or some unknown state where it cannot recover and stops. Depending on the configuration it might dump its memory contents to a file or a remote system. This allows developers to check this file and look for the reason why it happened.

A fibre-channel switch running Linux as OS is no different but the consequences can be far more severe.

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The paradigm shift in enterprise computing 10 years from now.

The way businesses arrange their IT infrastructure is based based upon 3 things: Compute, Networks and Storage. Two of these have had a remarkable shift in the way they operate over the last decade. The keyword here was virtualization. Both Compute and Networking have been torn apart and put together in a totally different way we were used to from the 70 to the early 2000’s. Virtual Machines and overlay networks have contributed to around 97% change in IT infrastructure design, operations and management. A similar shift storage had gone through back in the late 90’s early 2000’s when the majority of direct attached storage was consolidated into Storage Area Networks or SANs. Companies like EMC, NetApp, HDS, IBM and HP created a huge amount of equipment each filled with a ton of features and functions which allowed businesses to think different about their most valuable asset: DATA.

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Why Fibre-Channel has to improve

Many of you have used and managed fibre-channel based storage networks over the years. It comes to no surprise that a network protocol primarily developed to handle extremely time-sensitive operations is build with extreme demand regarding hardware and software quality and clear  guidelines on how these communications should proceed. It is due to this that fibre-channel has become the dominant protocol in datacenters for storage. Continue reading

Cisco Live 2013 – Datacenter mobility is the name of the game

Always being interested in datacenter technologies you can’ t walk around Cisco. Their reach into many aspects of the datacenter in addition to the various access paths to those datacenters is significant. From high-end switching technologies to secure VPN access to wireless they are everywhere.

The name of the game for the last couple of years was primarily convergence and it turns out they have embarked on that path full steam and they haven’ t looked back. A natural followup on this is mobility. Not from you or me running around with an iPhone but more towards entire virtual datacenters. The goal is to have VM mobility between private, hybrid and public clouds without service interruption. The ability to do this allows companies to fluently move services from their internal datacenters to the likes of Amazon, MS Azure, Rackspace and the likes but also to the less well known service providers.

From the service providers perspective the obvious suspects are in many cases the larger telco’s like Vodaphone, Verizon, Telefonica, AT&T etc. but also the entire managed services companies who own and operate datacenters fit very well into that goal. CSC, IBM and HP are some companies who fit in this space.

What you see is that networks will virtually extend from the private cloud (ie your own equipment) into the public space where it will act under your own security, operations and management policies. Of course this requires a fair chunk of work upfront to determine if these policies align with the services the public cloud provide can offer but when you have this ironed out the transition to datacenter mobility should be fairly seamless.

Obviously this doesn’t come for free and many of the features and functions requires up-to-date firmware on similar up-to-date hardware. So when your equipment is up for renewal you might want to have a serious look if this datacentre mobility aligns with your business outlook for the near future and act accordingly.

Another aspects which you have to take into account is which platform you select for being your private cloud stack. Do you use MS Windows 2012, Openstack, VMware or another one. You might feel very comfortable with VMware but if your preferred cloud provider is doing OpenStack you obviously have some decisions to make.

Besides pricing you also need to take into account product maturity and backing. If you found some very funky “cloud”  software on SourceForge which does all that you want from an internal services perspective you’ll likely end up at a dead-end when you want to take your VM’ s to a public cloud.
As an example VirtualBox comes to mind. Although it do a lot of things you want from a hypervisor, (cloning, snapshots, GUI & CLI management)  it doesn’t talk with anyone so seamless migrations, disaster recovery and extended network functionality such a vSwitches and VM mobility is out of the question.

Another hot topic is of course network fabric services. In this field you see Cisco moving FibreChannel characteristics to their Ethernet platforms. Some things we’ve raken for granted in the storage space for over 2 decades you now see dripping down into the ethernet platforms. vPC and FabricPath are good examples of that. From a competitive perspective it looks like Cisco is doing the opposite of Brocade where you see Brocade adopting Ethernet technologies into their FC platforms. The result is the the same (or at least similar). It now depends on the overlaying management stacks to find out which one will suit you best.

It would be great to see where Cisco takes this in 12 months from now and hopefully we see some great stuff which are mature enough to be deployed in production environments then.

To close I’d say: Kudos Cisco. Exciting stuff popping out of the labs. For customers who are about to renew  their datacenter equipment I’d advise to thoroughly look around and determine if, and how, you could deploy these new and exiting technologies.

Erwin van Londen

DISCLAIMER : Cisco paid the admittance to the event but had no influence in my view depicted above.

Brocade vs Cisco. The dance around DataCentre networking

When looking at the network market there is one clear leader and that is Cisco. Their products are ubiquitous from home computing to enterprise Of course there are others like Juniper, Nortel, Ericson but these companies only scratch the surface of what Cisco can provide. These companies rely on very specific differentiators and, given the fact they are still around, do a pretty good job at it.

A few years ago there was another network provider called Foundry and they had some really impressive products and I that’s mainly why these are only found in the core of data-centres which push a tremendous amount of data. The likes of ISP’s or  Internet Exchanges are a good fit. It is because of this reason Brocade acquired Foundry in July 2008. A second reason was that because Cisco had entered the storage market with the MDS platform. This gave Brocade no counterweight in the networking space to provide customers with an alternative.

When you look at the storage market it is the other way around. Brocade has been in the Fibre Channel space since day one. They led the way with their 1600 switches and have outperformed and out-smarted every other FC equipment provider on the planet. Many companies that have been in the FC space have either gone broke of have been swallowed by others. Names like Gadzoox, McData, CNT, Creekpath, Inrange and others have all vanished and their technologies either no longer exist or have been absorbed into products of vendors who acquired them.

With two distinct different technologies (networking & storage) both Cisco and Brocade have attained a huge market-share in their respective speciality. Since storage and networking are two very different beasts this has served many companies very well and no collision between the two technologies happened. (That is until FCoE came around; you can read my other blog posts on my opinion on FCoE).

Since Cisco, being bold, brave and sitting on a huge pile of cash, decided to also enter the storage market Brocade felt it’s market-share declining. It had to do something and thus Foundry was on the target list.

After the acquisition Brocade embarked on a path to get the product lines aligned to each other and they succeeded with  their own proprietary technology called VCS (I suggest you search for this on the web, many articles have been written). Basically what they’ve done with VCS is create an underlying technology which allows a flat level 2 Ethernet network operate on a flat fabric-based one which they have experiences with since the beginning of time (storage networking that is for them). 

Cisco wanted to have something different and came up with the technology merging enabled called FCoE. Cisco uses this extensively around their product set and is the primary internal communications protocol in their UCS platform. Although I don’t have any indicators yet it might well be that because FCoE will be ubiquitous in all of Cisco’s products the MDS platform might be abolished pretty soon from a sales perspective and the Nexus platforms will provide the overall merged storage and networking solution for Cisco data centre products which in the end makes good sense.

So what is my view on the Brocade vs. Cisco discussion. Well, basically, I do like them both. As they have different viewpoints of storage and networking there is not really a good vs bad. I see Brocade as the cowboy company providing bleeding edge, up to the latest standards, technologies like Ethernet fabrics and 16G fibre channel etc whereas Cisco is a bit more conservative which improves on stability and maturity. What the pros and cons for customers are I cannot determine since the requirement are mostly different.

From a support perspective on the technology side I think Cisco has a slight edge over Brocade since many of the hardware and software problems have been resolved over a longer period of time and, by nature, for Brocade providing bleeding edge technology with a “first-to-market” strategy may sometimes run into a bumpy ride. That being said since Cisco is a very structured company they sometimes lack a bit of flexibility and Brocade has an edge on that point.

If you ask me directly which vendor to choose when deciding a product set or vendor for a new data centre I have no preference. From a technology standpoint I would still separate fibre-channel from Ethernet and wait until both FCoE and Ethernet fabrics have matured and are well past their “hype-cycle”. We’re talking data centres here and it is your data. Not Cisco’s and not Brocade’s. Both FC and Ethernet are very mature and have a very long track-record of operations, flexibility and stability. The excellent knowledge there is available on each of these specific technologies gives me more piece of mind than the outlook of having to deal with problems bringing the entire data centre to a standstill.