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Predictions for Data Center Networks in 2015

January 05, 2015
By TMCnet Special Guest
M.H. Raza, CEO and Founder of Fiber Mountain -

Today’s data centers face ever-increasing demands for more bandwidth and agility, and Fiber Mountain’s technology introduces solutions which bring new levels of intelligence to the network, enable seamless, high-speed connectivity management and provide agile switch control via the Alpine Orchestration System™.  What follows are what we believe are developments that will impact the transformation of network infrastructures in the coming year.

Prediction #1 – Cisco incumbency in data center network architecture will be challenged in 2015

For more than a decade Cisco Systems has had a stranglehold on data center architectures when it comes to switching gear. The three tier architecture of access, aggregation and core saw more switches from this one vendor than any other in that time span. In 2014 we saw more deployments of Arista Networks in this space, particularly in data centers that required faster switching, or required more bandwidth for east/west traffic. Over the past few years we have also seen a trend towards white box switches in the very large data centers, which have had the resources in house to build their own software and support structures. For this trend to become pervasive across more data centers, vendors will have to provide hardware, software and support, all as a solution from a single source. New vendors such as Pica8 are already providing this and in 2015 we will see some of the traditional switch manufacturers start to provide turnkey white box solutions. Entry of newer vendors and technologies in the data center space will provide the biggest challenge that Cisco Systems has seen in a long time. 2015 will see incumbency give way to innovation in data centers.

Prediction #2 – Packet switching in server host to increase significantly

Packet transport in data centers has gone through immense evolution. 15 years ago we had a single packet processing location (core), then we added an additional packet processing location at end-of-row (aggregation), and 6 years ago we added yet another packet processing location at top-of-rack (access). There are two trends that should be expected in this space. First, in line with the evolution of adding more packet processing locations, we should expect to see packet processing at the server hypervisor; in other words switching will happen at the server and it will come in several flavors: hardware switching within the server host, virtual switching and also switching at a PCI-e level (look at Prediction #3). Second trend that we expect to see is that some of the older packet processing locations such as core, aggregation and access (core, end-of-row, and top-of-rack) will start to disappear because of the centralized nature of packet processing decisions driven by functionality available via Software Defined Networking (SDN). Packet switching as we have known over the past decade will be consumed by servers and 2015 will see a start towards this and an eventual landscape change in vendor market share for packet switching systems.

Prediction #3 – Silicon Photonics in data center networks will change the face of packet switching

Silicon photonics in servers will introduce new capabilities which will drive dramatic changes in how we architect networks. There are four trends to watch in this space, the advancement of silicon photonics itself into server hosts, the inherent ability of the PCI-E bus as a packet switch, the advancements of high density fiber connectivity such as the 64-fiber MXC connector and the adoption of 25 Gbps lanes from switch silicon. We heard last year about 800 Gbps transmission from servers (using MXC 64 fiber connector, with 32 pair/lanes x 25Gbps = 800 Gbps). Now add to this the ability of the PCI-E bus to switch packet traffic onto appropriate lanes and you start seeing a reduced need for switching outside of the server host environment. The year 2015 will see a start into a new world of massive connectivity from servers to other servers and storage over dense fiber optic connectivity, with packet switching decisions owned by the server environment.

Prediction #4 – Percentage of fiber connectivity in data center will rise significantly

The shift from copper connectivity to fiber connectivity in data centers has been in process for several years as the cost of fiber optic networking has been on the decline. This shift will accelerate, and at the same time the amount of fiber required in data centers will increase faster than predicted previously. New technologies enabling high density fiber optic connectors, high fiber-count cables and reduction in cost are the primary drivers for this change. Until recently fiber terminations in the field for high density connectors such as those used for 40/100 Gbps have been difficult and this has been a hurdle. New technologies provided by companies like Fiber Mountain have eliminated the need for field termination, thus making it easier for fiber deployments to grow in data centers.

Prediction #5 – Storage will need direct access from server/compute 

The amount of storage and the bandwidth requirement from compute to storage continues to increase. Add to this the fact that server hosts will have more and more virtual machines, and it is logical to assume that compute to storage bandwidth requirements will rise exponentially. In our industry a lot of effort in the past has been spent on converging network traffic including storage (FCoE, etc.). 2015 will show us that storage traffic will not follow the convergence route; in fact it will be quite divergent. We will need high bandwidth conduits from servers to storage which are latency sensitive. Direct, low latency, protocol agnostic fiber optic paths from servers to storage without any intermediate switches in between will be the answer.

M. H. Raza is CEO and founder of Fiber Mountain™

Raza founded Fiber Mountain™, and as CEO he leads day to day execution of the company’s vision of transforming network infrastructures everywhere. Previously Raza was VP/GM for ADC Telecommunications global enterprise business where he invented and executed the development of a cable intelligence technology; TE Connectivity acquired ADC. Prior to that he was Senior Director for 3Com’s IP Telephony division where he led the integration of telephony into IBM’s System-I environment; HP acquired 3Com. He was also VP/GM for Fujitsu BCS where he was responsible for IP Switches, Routers, ATM, SONET, and Telephony; and prior to that Director Product Management for General DataComm in the earliest ATM deployments for service provider in the US and globally. Raza has a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and holds several patents in the networking space.

Edited by Peter Bernstein

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