Almost 30 years ago, I came to the USA to attend college, and in my early years as a student I spent every winter, spring and summer break traveling to different parts of this beautiful country. I saw the Empire State building, the Statue of Liberty and Wall Street in New York; Harvard, MIT, and the museums in Boston; the River Walk in San Antonio; the Golden Gate Bridge and Muir Woods in San Francisco; the ocean fronts of Santa Barbara and San Diego; and the Grand Canyon. As students we could not afford to fly, so we drove across the country.
Last August, a few members of the Fiber Mountain team, me included, flew to Las Vegas to take part in Technology Marketing Corporation’s ITEXPO conference at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas. I gave a brief talk at one of the conference’s collocated events, Software Telco Congress—the NFV and SDN event—introducing the tenets of Fiber Mountain’s message for the first time anywhere.
Even though we were still technically in stealth mode at the time, after nearly two years of planning, finally bringing our message to light was certainly a little nerve-wracking. In introducing the idea of Connectivity Virtualization—where intelligent fiber cables replace and improve the functionality of unwieldy and expensive core switches—we were putting forth a concept that we believe will transform network architecture and make the incumbent vendors’ fire-breathing hardware obsolete.
If you’ve been keeping up with data center network news—and if you’re reading this blog I assume you have been—you’ve probably read about Facebook’s new data center fabric. The company recently deployed this new architecture in a data center in Iowa with the goal of increasing scalability and flexibility, both of which are critical for an organization that handles a tremendous amount of network traffic.
Essentially, Facebook’s new architecture was designed to break away from the aggregation cycle (for more on that, click here) to create a more elegant and efficient network. Rather than continuing to rely on clusters of hundreds of server cabinets with top of rack (TOR) switches aggregated to large core switches, Facebook created a distributed network by disseminating core switching functionality to several spine switches that make the company less reliant on massive hardware from incumbent switch vendors.
The company built this new architecture by creating 48-node pods, each served by spine switches. It also built its own management software that can automatically configure white box switches; so if Facebook wants to scale by adding a new device in the data center, the software recognizes that new machine and configures it to match Facebook specs. (Click here or here if you’re interested in a more in-depth look at Facebook’s new design).
What Facebook has done with its new topology is demonstrate that you can build a large, scalable architecture using smaller switches to do the same work as larger devices. They’re using more distributed switching and essentially telling us that the world no longer needs the unwieldy core switch hardware at the middle of the network that incumbent vendors have had so much success selling in recent years. In fact, taken a step further, Facebook’s reliance on white box switches also proves that you can build a large, efficient network without using any switches from the large incumbent vendors.
I’m always fascinated by what causes a business trend to emerge, grow and sometimes expand to actually redefining the industry as a whole. Having spent years in the technology field, I’ve found the networking sector particularly exciting in this regard because true innovation can and does transform entire segments of our industry. Revolutionary processes and technologies make past deployments and best practices look laughable in light of recent innovations.
Software Defined Networking (SDN), the separation of a network’s control and data planes, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The concept has been around awhile and the excitement surrounding SDN exploded about three years ago when the not-for-profit Open Networking Forum was founded to help promote the technology through open standards adoption. Now, as SDN provides new ways of improving networks and data centers around the globe, deployment and trials have gained momentum and firms are genuinely benefitting from reduced complexity, increased availability and lower costs.
As our CEO M.H. Raza discussed in a previous blog post, data center networks are growing rapidly to support exploding bandwidth needs. Incredible new demands on the network are being driven by an increasing number of complex applications and an exponential increase in attached devices. In turn, this unstoppable growth is driving a demand for data center managers to simplify and build intelligence into all layers of the network. Network virtualization—combining hardware and software resources and functionality into a single virtual network— can and does satisfy that immediate as well as future demand. SDN further enables network virtualization by allowing for the integration of physical and virtual environments providing a wide array of benefits. With this in mind, it’s imperative for every organization to take a hard look at the proven promises of SDN.