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April 03, 2014

Revolution by Evolution: Architecting the Next Generation Data Center in the Middle East

By TMCnet Special Guest
Yarob Sakhnini, Regional Director, MEMA at Brocade Communications

The pace of business is faster than ever, and it is only going to accelerate. Today’s businesses in the Middle East therefore require data centers that can work at the same rapid speed; deploying new applications quickly and efficiently, providing fast and reliable data access 24/7 and meeting or exceeding stringent service levels with zero downtime. All while maximizing return on investment by reducing costs. 

Cloud computing and virtualization are critical when it comes to IT services successfully matching the ever increasing pace of business. However, for these benefits to be realized the underlying data center architecture will need to evolve significantly. According to a recent survey by Brocade (News - Alert), over 91 percent of IT decision-makers stated that their current IT infrastructures are ill-equipped to meet the ever-changing and unique networking requirements created by virtualization and cloud computing.

High level architecture model

Any high-level data center architecture should help to reduce operating costs. A sound architecture that delivers greater reliability over time will nearly always work out cheaper in the long term. So, how can IT departments make sure that their network architecture has what it takes to support the business, not just now, but over the long-term?

Start with the target design

The first step is to decide how you want your data centre to look in the future. You need to select the extent and scope of LAN/SAN convergence, the number of layers within each network, and the number of switching tiers in each layer.

In order to do this there are five questions about your ideal model that need to be answered to make sure that all of your future investments bring you closer to that goal - How do you connect physical servers together and to the rest of the network?; Will there be an aggregation layer on the LAN or will large virtual servers connect directly into a high-port-count collapsed access/aggregation layer?; Do you want to be locked into one orchestration tool and hypervisor vendor or will you select different solutions to meet differing needs for separate applications and departments?; Will you be able to continue using any of your existing equipment in that design? And if not, why not?

In addition to these questions, it is vital that you have a clear picture of your current equipment and how it is being used today by performing an audit.

Building the infrastructure

Once the overall design direction has been established, the next step towards a flexible cloud model is virtualization. While virtualization technology is not new, the scale at which it is being deployed is unprecedented and this is adding significant complexity to the network. A sound infrastructure for the next-generation data center should be robust enough to support virtualization of every component and the data center itself. Not all applications require or even benefit from every type of virtualization. Therefore, the infrastructure must be flexible enough to support both applications on dedicated hardware and applications on virtualised hardware.

Network convergence in the data center

There are many different ways to design a data centre to support virtualization and cloud computing services and there are a number of key decisions to make. An important decision that impacts the top-level network architecture is network convergence. You can deploy network convergence or not and still deliver the cost reduction driving virtualization and private cloud computing.

Network convergence of LAN and SAN traffic has broad implications beyond the simple notion of merging traffic on the same wire to reduce capital costs. Fortunately, convergence is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Essentially, there are four distinct options to choose from:

  1. No convergence – Retaining the classic architecture is a valid choice. However, if you integrate LAN and SAN management functions with virtual server orchestration software then you can automate changes when VMs are moved across physical servers, resulting in considerable time and resource savings
  2. Management convergence –  The much sought after single-pane-of-glass management, whereby all metrics, applications and hardware can be monitored and maintained from a single point, requires increased convergence so that management tools can talk to LAN and SAN switches at the same time
  3. Layer 2 technology convergence – Under this option, you can retain physically separate networks, but use the same type of Layer 2 (data link) infrastructure for IP and Fibre Channel traffic
    Access layer convergence – Physically converging IP and Fibre Channel traffic inside a server, external network adapter and top-of-rack switch can minimise costs and streamline maintenance by reducing the number of cables and switches required

As with any infrastructure project, the total cost of each of these options should be considered beyond the initial deployment, as each will have a different impact on performance, availability, security and operations. When and how far to converge the IP and Fibre Channel traffic is a decision that should be made in the context of all of your organisational requirements.

Revolution (News - Alert) through evolution

Much of the discussion around server virtualization and cloud computing highlights the value of immediate access to unlimited amounts of computing, storage, and network bandwidth. However, the effectiveness of virtualization and cloud computing is heavily dependent upon the data centres and the physical hardware on which they are based. To support virtualization, the data centre architect has to harden the network against failures while ensuring it is adaptable and flexible; without disrupting traffic and while continuing to support existing data center assets.

Crucially, achieving this does not require a full upgrade to the entire data center network from the access layer to the core. In fact, the best approach is always to implement a virtualization and private cloud computing architecture at a pace that makes sense for the individual business.

About the Author: Yarob Sakhnini is Regional Director for the Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa (MEMA) region at Brocade Communications. He is responsible for leading the sales and pre-sales engineering teams as well as planning and executing channel and marketing strategies to help grow Brocade’s business in the region. He is a networking industry veteran with over 21 years of experience in various senior technical management roles.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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