Future-proofing the corporate data centre

Future-proofing the corporate data centre

Curt Beckmann, Chief Technology Architect, EMEA, Brocade, breaks down how technology trends such as big data, cloud and pervasive mobility are transforming the way we live and work, and having a dramatic impact on businesses and consumers.

The benefits from these trends are varied and wide-ranging, but they all have a common element underpinning them; the data centre. Our reliance on this infrastructure is tied to our increasing consumption of data, a dependence which has never been greater and which shows no signs of slowing down.

It’s therefore essential that businesses ensure their data centres are ready for the future. It is already critical for businesses to have scalable and flexible data centre infrastructure, with any downtime likely to prove hugely costly. Long after technical faults are resolved, such issues can impact a business’ profitability and cause irreparable damage to brand and reputation. For example, just consider the impact if your bank or mobile operator’s online services suffered prolonged outages.

As a result, it’s no longer viable for data centres to delay the inevitable and just try and squeeze the most out of legacy infrastructure. Fundamental changes are needed to prepare for the future. Now is the time for data centre owners and business leaders need to embrace innovation.

To gauge future needs, businesses and their IT decision makers must acknowledge the four core elements that accelerate the evolution of data centres.


1. The prevalence of virtualisation

Virtualization is now prominent in the majority of data centres and requires a much more elegant and robust network topology to provide the raw performance and management flexibility needed.

2. The demand for network reliability

The advent of faster networks, more (virtual) data centre capacity and higher security requirements means network resilience is critical.  As companies empower mobile working, the need for a secure and reliable network is paramount.

3. The drive for ‘always-on’ accessibilty

The adoption of cloud-based services, either on an application-level (such as CRM tools like salesforce.com) or by outsourcing entire IT requirements to hosting providers, has meant the need for 24/7 network accessibility and resilience has never been greater.

4. The need for scalability

Modern data centres have to deal with more volume – service more users, applications and data. This is a trend that will only increase and will require a highly flexible and scalable data centre infrastructure.

So what does the data centre of the future look like?
The question remains of how to respond to these trends and developments and provide a data centre that can cope with requirements how should data centres, now and in the future? There are three key steps businesses should consider:

A strong foundation
The physical networking infrastructure provides the basis for any data centre, one that provides the connectivity between applications, servers and storage.  A fabric-based networking topology is required for businesses that want to embrace a highly flexible and agile on-demand model as it provides the ability to build scalable cloud infrastructures that also reduce cost.  A fabric-based network, both at the IP and storage layers, can address the growing complexity in IT and data centres today by simplifying network design and management.

Virtual Infrastructure
On top of the physical infrastructure will be a virtual, or logical, layer.  This is well-established in the server domain with hypervisor technology.  The same concepts are now being applied to both storage and IP networks, with technologies such as overlay networks enabled through a variety of tunnelling techniques. These allow the provision of IPv6 services over existing IPv4 or multiprotocol network infrastructure.

In the future we will see network services virtualized, as a result of the introduction of virtual switches and routers. “NFV”, or Network Function Virtualization, represents an industry movement towards software or VM-based form factors for common data centre services.  Customers want to realize the cost and flexibility advantages of software rather than continuing to deploy specialized, purpose-built devices for services such as application delivery controllers. This is especially the case in cloud architectures where these services want to be commissioned and decommissioned with mouse clicks rather than physical hardware installations and moves.  We are already seeing a shift towards open, more flexible, efficient, highly programmable and elastic network infrastructure solutions with key initiatives such as OpenStack and the Open Daylight Project making a big impact.

Frameworks for orchestration
Lastly, it’s essential that the entire data centre environment be managed by orchestration frameworks that allow for the rapid and end-to-end provisioning of virtual data centres.  OpenStack, for example, allows customers to deploy network capacity and services in their cloud-based data centres far quicker than with legacy network architectures and provisioning tools.

In the years to come, technologies such as Software-Defined Networking (SDN) looks set to radically transform the datacentre. SDN refers to the separation of the part of the network that is responsible for routing and directing traffic (known as the control plane) from the part that carries the traffic itself (known as the data plane). The goal is to allow organisations to respond rapidly to changing business requirements. By simplifying how network resources are deployed and managed, SDN gives businesses far greater control of their data and applications and makes network management simpler and faster.

SDN is still in its infancy but its potential is vast; IDC has predicted it will be a $3.7 billion market by 2016[1]. By making networks smarter and simpler to manage, it will facilitate innovation throughout the enterprise, helping businesses to develop and deploy new applications and respond to changing market forces faster than ever.

In order to adequately prepare for the data centre of the future and take advantage of SDN and other emerging technologies in the years to come, businesses need to combine the most valuable aspects of the physical and virtual layers.  Adopting the steps outlined above will give organisations the ability to flexibly deploy data centre capacity – compute, networking, storage and services – in real-time, whenever and wherever they need it, delivering much improved ROI and helping businesses to turn their data centre into a real competitive advantage.

About the author

Curt Beckmann is EMEA CTA for Brocade and Brocade’s lead representative at the Open Networking Foundation, where he chairs the Forwarding Abstractions Working Group. This group recently produced a key specification to make OpenFlow more scalable and interoperable. He is now also supporting OpenDaylight efforts to support the enhanced OpenFlow framework.

Curt entered networking as an ASIC architect at Bay Networks in 1995, where he worked on Ethernet switching and early Layer 3 gigabit switches. He moved on to lead Fibre Channel storage virtualization and iSCSI protocol-conversion system-on-a-chip ASIC designs at Rhapsody Networks, which Brocade acquired in 2003. He spent some years in product management before returning to engineering, where he now focuses on enhancing the OpenFlow Standard to accelerate hardware adoption of new features.



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