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Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto
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The Increasing Problem With Ports

Even for companies that embrace a unified data center architecture, ports will be a problem.

Data centers need more ports than ever before. Converging the data and storage networks will slow that growth significantly, but IT teams still will have more ports to manage, adding complexity.

Vendors are shipping top-of-rack and end-of-row switches that are typically 1 U and 1 GB with 48 ports, with one or more 10-GB uplink ports. That demand for high-capacity networking in the racks points to the increasing volume of ports, which left unchecked very quickly gets into the thousands, well past the point where they can be effectively managed.

One strategy is to reduce the number of devices IT teams must manually configure and manage. Cisco's Nexus Fabric Extender is one tool to do that. The Fabric Extender is a bridge that adds access ports to a switch but is managed as if it's a blade rather than a separate device. The result: IT teams can manage close to 2,000 ports from a single Nexus 5000, versus the 40 ports available without it.

Juniper Networks has its own vision for simplifying management by integrating its data center switches into a single fabric, managed as a single switch. It's unclear how Juniper will pull this feat off, since it hasn't announced a timeline for related products. But the idea is that new switches are added to the fabric and configured as a unit, with software updates pushed out once.

Cisco and Juniper take different architectural approaches, relating to the data path. Cisco Fabric Extender doesn't switch traffic between ports on the same Extender. All the traffic must be sent to a main switch and returned. That approach could lead to a bottleneck if a unified infrastructure layers storage on top of data networking on the same Extender. Juniper's idea is to abstract the management layer from the data paths, but we'll see if it can execute.

Illustration by Bryan Christie Design

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