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The Next-Generation LAN

Tomorrow's local-area network will be the plumbing for everything business leaders want to do, from adding HC video to using FCoE to slash storage costs. So how we ensure our LANs are robust enough to handle the pressure?

A dizzying array of new applications are crowding onto the LAN. Among the most challenging in terms of performance and design are videoconferencing, video surveillance, virtual desktop infrastructures, and converged storage.

What's that? A unified communications or virtual desktop vendor says your current network can handle its systems just fine? We've heard that one before--and then the help desk lines lit up.

The reality is IT must sniff out problems now and build in plenty of room to grow, because the math for sensitive traffic is not nearly as easy as vendor reps would have you believe, and users generally give us one chance to have new productivity apps catch on.

Or maybe your storage group is looking to upgrade to Fibre Channel over Ethernet, a nascent technology that may ultimately do away with SANs as we know them. Far from being fearful of FCoE, LAN managers should embrace this development, because placing storage traffic on the network in the form of raw SCSI communications allows for a more efficient data center footprint. No duplicate infrastructure needed to handle writing data to disk arrays. This convergence lowers not only cabling requirements and costs, but also energy, cooling, and physical space demands.

Of course, storage traffic needs to be delivered without any packet loss and as quickly as possible. While UC performance problems become evident through frozen frames, choppy voice, or the inability of your security team to see in a particular area of the building, storage performance glitches will manifest via delayed reading and writing of just about everything.

In our full report, available free for a limited time at analytics/nextgenlan, we discuss how to diagnose common problems that plague LANs and recommend strategies to prepare for the next generation of applications--and no, throwing large amounts of bandwidth at the problem isn't the answer. For example, as virtual desktops become more common, latency and jitter will have the potential to kill more than just video and audio streams, as lots of small packets for keyboard, video, and mouse updates scurry back and forth. For FCoE and other IP-based storage specifications, problems could derail backups. So let's look at what's different about this new traffic.

InformationWeek: March 29, 2010 Issue To read the rest of the article, download a free PDF of InformationWeek magazine
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