Data Center Fabrics and Their Role in Managing the Big Data Trend

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1 Data Center Fabrics and Their Role in Managing the Big Data Trend The emergence of Big Data as a critical technology initiative is one of the driving factors forcing IT decision-makers to explore new alternatives in designing data centers. Big Data demands levels of volume, speed, agility, scalability, and simple interoperability that traditional data centers and networks either can t deliver at all or can only deliver at significant cost. By using data center fabrics to address the challenges of Big Data, organizations can resolve underlying performance challenges while putting in place a simplified and future-proof architecture to unlock the potential of Big Data analytics for strategic competitive advantage. Page 1 of 10

2 In some ways, Big Data has become larger than life. The chatter surrounding it is nothing short of sensational. McKinsey says that Big Data has the potential to transform business in the same way as the Internet, becoming a key basis for competition and underpinning new waves of productivity growth and consumer surplus. 1 IDC says that Big Data will earn its place as the next must have technology competency in 2012 and that it is one of the trends that will account for at least 80 percent of IT spending growth through the end of the decade. 2 Gartner has identified Big Data as one of its top technology trends for Why the emphasis on Big Data? Organizations are creating more data than ever and they are creating this data in a wide range of formats: From traditional structured data that can be captured in corporate databases, to unstructured data such as and Word files, to high-bandwidth data such as interactive multimedia training, security videos, streaming video, and more. The challenge is to not only capture and store this ever-expanding mass of data, but to actually use it in a way that can give organizations a competitive advantage. This means coming up with cost-effective ways to get to the data, extract it, analyze it, and act upon it with great speed, automation, agility, and accuracy ultimately turning it into valuable business information. 1 Big Data, The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition and Productivity, McKinsey 2 IDC Predicts 2012 Will be the Year of Mobile and Cloud Computing Platform Wars as IT Vendors Vie for Leadership While the Industry Redefines Itself, IDC 3 Gartner Identifies the Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2012, Gartner Page 2 of 10

3 It is the responsibility of IT decision-makers to turn today s lofty expectations for Big Data into tomorrow s realities. In order to do so and unlock the dramatic potential of using Big Data for competitive advantage, network architects must be prepared to recognize and do something about the inherent limitations in their existing data centers and Ethernet networks. While many tend to think of Big Data as a database/storage/business intelligence challenge, delivering solutions for Big Data requires a holistic approach to the data center, including servers, storage, networks, and the ways in which these entities interact and interoperate. Infrastructure Challenges The ways in which data centers and networks have evolved through the client server era make them poorly equipped to deliver the speed, agility, and scalability required for Big Data particularly in today s environments where virtualization and cloud computing are becoming more prevalent for mission-critical applications. There are two critical inherent problems in today s data center and network infrastructures that need to be addressed before organizations can take full advantage of the benefits of Big Data: n Performance: Traditional data centers rely on Ethernet networks as the connective tissue linking servers, storage, and devices with one another and with applications, Web services, and databases. Virtualization and cloud computing are changing the nature of the way data centers must perform. Server-to-server transactions are now exceeding data center client exchanges. In addition, the traditional silos of resources in data centers, as well as the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP)- based multilayer hierarchical switch architecture of Ethernet, Page 3 of 10

4 simply don t provide the performance required for Big Data applications. The limitations of this architecture slow down network performance in a virtual environment and introduce additional potential for latency. Big Data requires the highest levels of speed and performance, and latency is a game-stopper. n Complexity: Data centers using networks that employ a traditional hierarchical architecture pose significant challenges in complexity, especially in relation to serving the needs of Big Data. To deliver on the volume and performance required by Big Data, traditional data centers would have to add more and more devices and manage more and more interactions among those devices. In a virtual environment this is a recipe for a complexity that would increase exponentially. As data volume, variety, and velocity would increase, the data center would keep growing in size and would become harder and harder to manage. The level of complexity required to manage Big Data in this environment would be costly in terms of equipment, time, server optimization, IT resources, energy consumption just about every area where IT is trying to reduce complexity to save costs. Along with the twin challenges of performance and complexity, there are additional related challenges in delivering scalability and agility because of the limitations in traditional data center and network infrastructures. Going forward, IT organizations must look for a new type of architecture or run the risk of missing out on some of their most important strategic initiatives. At a fundamental level, Big Data requires a data center infrastructure that is an enabler and not a bottleneck. Page 4 of 10

5 Data center fabrics are the ideal solution for managing the challenges of Big Data because they fundamentally change the dynamics of the data center and network to improve performance, reduce complexity, enhance scalability, and enable previously unattainable levels of agility. In addition, fabric technology interoperates with existing resources so organizations can preserve their investments without having to tear out everything now in place. Fabrics bring a flatter network design and architecture into the data center and greatly enhance network performance versus traditional approaches because they eliminate the STP-based architecture of Ethernet switches. They enable the data center to act not as a collection of disparate devices, but more like a single device, particularly in the case of Ethernet fabrics built with Brocade VCS Fabric technology, which are designed to appear as a single Layer 2 switch to the rest of the network. In addition to being masterless, Brocade fabrics are self-forming, self-healing, and highly resilient. Here are some of the most important ways in which fabrics are enabling data centers to deliver on the promise of big data: n Speed: Big Data computing is as much about speed as a surge in data, said The New York Times online 4, citing the ability of IBM s Watson computer to defeat two human 4 Big Data, Speed and the Future of Computing, The New York Times online Page 5 of 10

6 Jeopardy champs. Think of brokers who need the fastest connection to their source data to close a major purchase or sale, or online retail environments, where real-time analytics can impact prices and have an immediate and measurable influence on customer buying patterns. As just one example of how speed improves with fabrics, Brocade VCS fabrics immediately double the available links and bandwidth to the servers simply by eliminating STP within the access layer. Performance is also improved by enabling data to take the shortest path using multiple Inter-Switch Link (ISL) connections without loops. n TCO: One of the unique advantages of Brocade VCS fabrics is that organizations can build them using traditional Topof-Rack (ToR) switches, such as the Brocade VDX 6710, Brocade VDX 6720, and Brocade VDX 6730 Data Center Switches. This means organizations can protect their investment in core switches while supporting east-west traffic at the source, and improving performance by offloading traffic from core switches. This enables savings in CaPex and OpEx, while improving resilience and simplifying management through the use of shared intelligence across nodes. n Low latency: There are many environments and applications where latency can have a crippling impact on the value of Big Data for example, collaborative applications that rely heavily on mobility and/or video, or, as mentioned earlier, highfrequency trading or online retailing. Fabrics greatly improve latency, particularly in environments where there is significant east-west traffic between server clusters. Because fabrics reduce the number of layers data must pass through, they Page 6 of 10

7 reduce the most common sources of delay and packet loss in today s data centers. n Agility: Agility is absolutely necessary to use Big Data as a successful tool to change business operations. Agility is all about the ways in which organizations can turn data into a competitive advantage. It s therefore about having an infrastructure that can scale simply to meet new demands and to provision new services quickly. One of the specific challenges with Big Data systems is that they tend to be inflexible, which means that IT must be able to design them for agility, using automation wherever possible and deploying an underlying architecture that is an agility enabler, such as fabric technology. Data center fabrics provide elastic agility by enabling infrastructures to scale simply and easily without degrading performance. n Simplified management: Fabrics present themselves as a single entity with shared intelligence. That means management can be domain-based rather than device-based and defined by policy rather than repetitive procedures. Because information about connections to physical and virtual servers and storage is known to all switches in the fabric, the fabric can ensure all network policies and security settings continue to be applied to any given Virtual Machine (VM) no matter where it resides or whether it stays in place or moves to another physical server. In thinking about upcoming challenges for IT in delivering Big Data solutions, it is important to understand Big Data in the context of all the changes taking place in the data center. Fabrics Page 7 of 10

8 are critical not only in enabling Big Data initiatives, but they also have a comparable importance in enabling virtualization and cloud computing. Infrastructure Challenges With cloud computing, virtualization, and Big Data, data centers are now much more interdependent than they were during the client server era, meaning the ability to simply and agilely coordinate resource allocation across all servers, storage, and networks is becoming more and more important in guaranteeing application availability. Resiliency, simplicity, speed, scalability, and agility must all be attributes of next-generation data centers. Fabric solutions from Brocade deliver significant advantages over existing data center solutions and versus fabric solutions from competitive vendors. Brocade has been building data center fabrics for 15 years and is a pioneer in fabric design and technology, delivering the first Ethernet fabrics in the industry. Brocade VCS Fabric technology is a critical building block in allowing IT leaders and network architects to create next-generation data centers that enable their organizations to take full advantage of the competitive benefits available through the strategic use of Big Data. This technology is built upon three core design principles: n Non-stop networking n Simplified, automated networks n An evolutionary approach that protects existing IT investments Page 8 of 10

9 Brocade VCS Fabric technology addresses performance, scalability, complexity, and agility issues, enabling data centers to support Big Data environments. By leveraging multiple paths through the network, Brocade VCS fabrics enable high performance and ensure extremely low latency as well as the highest levels of resiliency and availability. They are automatically aware of all devices within the domain so organizations can add and remove switches without any manual configuration, and physical and virtual servers can be located automatically upon connection. Brocade VCS Fabric technology also allows IT organizations to create efficient data center networks that just work. It offers unmatched VM awareness and automation versus traditional architectures and competitive fabric solutions. Only Brocade VCS Fabric technology, backed by a heritage of proven fabric innovations, delivers the IT agility and reliability required for today s Big Data challenges with a cost-effective point of entry to help organizations transition gracefully to next-generation fabric-based data centers. Just as Big Data has the potential to shift paradigms in how businesses use technology, fabric technology has the same potential to shift paradigms in how data centers are designed and built. At a time when organizations are turning more and more to virtualization and cloud computing to deliver services and missioncritical applications, IT leaders are realizing that they must have high-performance, flat, reliable, resilient, agile, and less complex data center infrastructures. The combination of megatrends virtualization, cloud computing, and Big Data will lead to a Page 9 of 10

10 fundamental shift in data center design and that shift will be toward fabric technology. Infrastructure Challenges Holistic data center fabrics will be required to deliver on the promise of next-generation technology solutions. According to IDC, As the demand for Big Data and big content grows, the need to create global fabrics is expanding and drives the need for a unified fabric approach. 5 For Big Data, data center fabrics are an essential building block, enabling the performance, agility, and simplified management that is necessary to ensure that Big Data is, indeed, one of the industry s next defining technology initiatives. n For information on how Brocade can help you achieve your Big Data initiatives go to 5 The Dynamic Data Center Network in Transition: Building Scalable, Open Fabrics, IDC Technology Spotlight, September 2011 Brocade and the B-wing symbol are registered trademarks of Brocade Communications Systems, Inc. Other brands, products, or service names mentioned may be trademarks of their respective owners. Page 10 of 10

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