Why 'Unified' Is The Hot New Idea For Data Centers - InformationWeek

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04:30 PM
George Crump
George Crump

Why 'Unified' Is The Hot New Idea For Data Centers

It's time to think about running your IP and storage networks together. And Cisco's not the only one that thinks so.

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Companies that are building a new data center or making a major expansion should consider a unified infrastructure. But many companies are trying to avoid building new data centers, at least until better financial times come, and they see consolidating servers as the way to do that. What's their best strategy?

A unified data center is by no means a foregone conclusion in a real-world data center, even if some of the most influential tech vendors line up behind it. It's important for CIOs to have a plan to handle server growth for the next few years--and to do that now, so any equipment they buy supports a unified infrastructure approach, if that's the strategy they pursue. One laggard in this movement looks likely to be the physical storage systems, which show every sign of remaining Fibre Channel-based for the foreseeable future.

Companies still can get plenty of performance gains without switching to FCoE. Most vendors project significant cost reductions in 8-Gb Fibre Channel connectivity over the next year. Brocade in particular remains committed to 16-Gb Fibre Channel, and the expectation is that the rest of the network interface card and switch providers will deliver those upgrades as well.

There's no good financial case for ripping out existing infrastructure to replace it with FCoE. A phase-in will lay the groundwork for a unified infrastructure as the needs demand. This phase-in will mean minimizing investment in Fibre Channel switches and 1-Gb Ethernet blades for the IP infrastructure, and instead bringing new servers online via FCoE. As they're deployed, it will reduce cabling space and management over time.

The cost of the switch often will be the big hurdle, one reason people are eagerly awaiting Cisco's unified infrastructure plans. If adding servers under today's model, which can use four times as many ports as unified infrastructure, will force a company to buy a new switch, that cost may justify the purchase of an FCoE switch.

Companies will be drawn to unified infrastructure to solve tactical problems, such as the cost and complexity of maintaining the multiple interface cards and rat's nests of cables coming out of the back of servers, as well as the need for more IP bandwidth. More strategically, they'll want the cost savings and operating agility that comes with more dynamically realigning resources without fiddling with the underlying physical infrastructure. If vendors can deliver that, CIOs are ready to listen.

George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on virtualization and storage.

Illustration by Bryan Christie Design

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