Cloud, virtualization, mobility drive networking changes

Traditional networks not optimized to deliver new and future workloads effectively in converging environment, and enterprises need to invest to keep up, market players say.

Cloud computing, virtualization and mobility are some of the trends driving change in today's enterprise networks, said market observers. They added that while interest in server, storage and network convergence is on the rise, challenges still exist.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Mayank Kapoor, research analyst for ICT practice for Asia-Pacific at Frost & Sullivan, pinpointed virtualization and cloud computing as among the biggest trends driving the region's networking market today. These technologies have increased the traffic from compute and storage fabric which enhances the need for a "flat datacenter architecture", he said.

The move to cloud computing has also led to the centralization of infrastructure which requires enterprises to upgrade their LAN (local area network, WAN (wide area network) and SAN (storage area network) infrastructure to deliver on-demand access to remote users, he added.

According to Kapoor, virtualized fabrics are gaining traction to avoid network bottlenecks expected in the future.

"The traditional network is leading to inefficient use of infrastructure in today's virtualized environments," he said. "There is increased latency due to the North-South optimization of the network as opposed to predominantly East-West traffic in data centers."

Direct connectivity between every port of the network removes the need for the traditional Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) and routing loops, which enhances network efficiency and at the same time eliminates bottlenecks and latency, he added.

Aside from virtualization and cloud, market players whom ZDNet Asia spoke to pointed to mobility as a trend in the networking market. Amol Mitra, marketing director for networking at Hewlett-Packard Asia-Pacific and Japan, noted that in the past, users "followed networks" as they use wired Internet access. But now with the proliferation of smart mobile devices, networks have to follow users instead.

C.K. Lam, Juniper Networks' enterprise solutions manager for the Asia-Pacific region, added that organizations are struggling to keep pace with the myriad of mobile devices--often personally-owned--getting onto the corporate network. These devices predominantly leverage wireless infrastructure which was not deployed to handle such a surge in wireless traffic, he noted in an e-mail.

Wireless networks are getting the same attention as wired networks, added a Cisco Systems executive . Srinivas Nadesan, director of enterprise business at Cisco in Asia Pacific, said in an e-mail interview that the growth in mobile devices has led to "a larger share of network investments in enterprises toward setting up a robust and secure wireless infrastructure in parallel to their wired network".

Convergence becoming reality
Market observers, while optimistic that convergence of server, storage and networking is taking place, warned obstacles still exist.

The trend toward convergence, noted Frost & Sullivan's Kapoor, is especially significant for large enterprises.

Paul Robson, vice president and general manager for networking at HP Asia Pacific and Japan, pointed outthat the company introduced its converged infrastructure strategy one-and-a-half years ago. According to him, it makes sense for companies to converge the server, storage and networking technology in the data center to centralize resources.

Juniper Networks' Lam added that there is more interest from customers regarding network convergence where a "unified fabric" strings together all resources in the data center such as servers, storage and security appliances.

However, Kapoor of Frost & Sullivan pointed out there are factors that hamper the move toward a converged infrastructure, including widespread use of non-Ethernet standards; customer inertia due to huge legacy investments; and proprietary architectures that have slowed the momentum toward open and multi-purpose platforms, which serve as the foundation for convergence.

In addition, customers, Lam noted, are still hesitant about pulling the plug on their fiber channel networks and migrating to Fiber Channel over Ethernet. Standards and protocols used to support seamless virtual machine mobility are either new or still are work-in-progress, such as Virtual Ethernet Port Aggregator or VEPA, he added.

Another challenge is the lack skill sets required for such convergence, said Lam. He explained: "[There] used to be a very clear line of responsibilities between the server, storage and network administrators. In a fully converged and virtualized data center, organizations are just starting to grapple with the idea that this line may not be as clear as before."

In this case, Lam said it is up to vendors to provide solutions so that administration may be simplified whether the environment is physical or virtual.

According to Cisco's Nadesan, while the technology for building a converged datacenter infrastructure is mature, the biggest hurdle that customers face in moving from traditional silos of infrastructure toward a unified one is the lack of a structured approach that would offer them a planned migration methodology while minimizing risk and ensuring data integrity.

"Vendors, like Cisco, recognize this gap and are increasingly involved in assisting customers and partners with the required advisory service on the migration framework and best practices toward building a converged data center," he said.

Gina Tan, Brocade's director for Southeast Asia, also noted that the reality of converging storage network and data network into a common architecture is not always relatively simple or straightforward.

This level of convergence can present significant challenges in terms of network design and management, she cautioned.

It also "requires specialized expertise for multi-protocol design and extensive multi-vendor, multi-network testing", Tan said, adding that this can be daunting to many organizations if they do not have the right expertise and understanding of the strengths and limitations of using Ethernet in data networks and fiber channel in storage networks.


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