Data Center Interconnect: Small Vendors Innovate, but Large Ones Are Catching Up

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1 Rick Talbot Current Analysis Senior Analyst, Advisory Report Vendors Innovate, December 30, 2011 Issue As service providers turn to content delivery networks and cloud computing to deliver their value-add services, the industry is realizing that the interconnection of data centers is critical to the delivery of these services. However, incumbent service providers have seldom targeted services at the data centers, because the traffic generated by these services was originally small, and the operators of the data centers, having their own unique requirements, generally employed private lines (rather than data services) to interconnect the data centers. As the traffic between the data centers grew, the data center operators often retained their independence from the incumbent providers by deploying their own optical systems on fiber they leased from competitive access providers. Furthermore, the major optical network equipment vendors, which tend to focus on incumbent service provider needs, have until recently overlooked the specific needs of data center interconnection. Whereas the major systems vendors considered data center interconnection a demanding application of limited size, smaller systems vendors considered data center interconnection a valuable niche. In addition, these non-dominant vendors found two customer types in this niche: the data-focused service providers and the data center operators. As these small vendors focused on the data center interconnection market, they developed a strategy targeted at serving the needs of this specialized customer set and discovered a set of features for their optical networking systems that were particularly valuable for this application. Now that data center interconnections are achieving prominence in the network and appear to be gaining even greater importance, major equipment vendors have become interested in these specialized features, and they are beginning to view these data center-focused optical network vendors as meaningful competitors. This report notes the strategy used, and examines the features offered, by optical networking equipment vendors focused on the data center interconnection opportunity. Current Perspective Optical networking equipment vendors targeting the data center interconnection market are employing a strategy to meet the specialized needs of that market. An obvious element of that strategy is a number of product features that fit the requirements of the data center interconnection application. Several data center-focused optical network vendors have worked closely with data center operators to identify (and implement) these features. Standard Service Provider Features Data center interconnections make use of many features that are common to optical networking systems deployed by many service providers. The following are existing DWDM features that are important for data center interconnections: 10G Wavelengths Data center operators now commonly use 10 Gbps connections between data centers to interconnect high-speed servers. Thus, the 10G wavelengths are not just for overall capacity, Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 1

2 but for the individual connections. 40G/100G Transport The capacity of data centers is rapidly expanding; so, too, is the traffic between them. This interconnection traffic is further increased as more of the content being shared is HD video and cloud computing makes use of geographically distributed servers. This traffic increase will drive demand beyond the capacity of current 10G DWDM systems. The interconnection capacity needed between large data centers will need to be provided by 40G and 100G DWDM systems. ROADM Capability The need for flexible optical connections among data centers will increase as the traffic between them increases. This flexibility will allow rapid reconfiguration of capacity between data centers and rapid (and selective) restoration of capacity after network outages. ROADMs provide this optical flexibility. Metro Packet-Optical Transport Not all of the traffic between data centers will be direct connections between high-speed servers. Much of the traffic will be Ethernet, and the most efficient transport of that traffic will be over a packet switched network. A metro packet-optical transport system provides both the flexible optical networking required for the high-capacity, low-latency connections and the efficient packet transport for the bulk Ethernet traffic. Fast Failover/High Availability The importance of the data center interconnections to the data center operators can hardly be overstated. Thus, high availability of these connections, and therefore rapid recovery from any network failures, is paramount. The infrastructure must provide essentially instantaneous protection of the most important connections, and the network management system and/or control plane must quickly reconfigure the network after a failure to maintain that protection capability. End-User Focus The data center interconnection product specialists have noted that they are selling either directly to the end user (the data center operator) or to a small service provider that is tied very closely to the end user. Thus, the product must be targeted at the end user, whose focus is on its core business, which includes financial exchange, data replication, and cloud services, but not data center interconnection. The following are solution requirements that flow from this focus on end users and drive features provided by the data center interconnection product specialists: Modular Design Since this solution is not strategic to the end user, it should require limited initial investment and provide pay-as-you-grow scalability. This requirement leads to a modular design. Ease of Use Ease of use is at a premium; the end user can little afford extensive training on network management systems, or an extensive interface card inventory: The solution should provide converged (appearing as single layer and single vendor) network management capabilities; and It should support multiple services with a limited number of interface cards. Fiber Monitoring The solution should support optical fiber monitoring, since the end user would not normally employ a full-time fiber technician. Network Performance Portal End users are unlikely to make the capital and operational expenditure required to deploy their own network management system, but they need immediate notification and description of any issues in the performance of their network. A network performance portal allows service providers (or the equipment vendor, as a professional service) to offer real-time performance monitoring and service level agreement (SLA) verification or SLA assurance services directly to the end user. Single-Fiber Transmission It should offer single-fiber bidirectional transmission, since the end user usually leases its fiber and a single fiber generally leases for less than a pair. Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 2

3 Professional Services The solution should stress the professional service capabilities of the vendor: At the least, the vendor should offer optical design assistance, because the end users rarely have this expertise; The vendor can partner with one or more dark fiber providers to minimize the required points of contact for the end user; and A vendor-provided network operations center (NOC) frees the end user from ongoing network maintenance. Specialized Data Protocols Connections within, between, and to data centers often employ specialized storage area network (SAN)-oriented protocols, including ESCON, FICON, Fibre Channel (FC), and InfiniBand. In addition, the FC connections are provided in multiple service speeds: 1, 2, 4, and 8 Gbps. The client cards of DWDM systems used for data center interconnection will need to offer client cards that provide interfaces for these SAN-oriented protocols. In addition, since data centers will increasingly be storing video content, the interconnecting DWDM systems will also need to support standard-definition and high-definition video signals, such as HD-SDI. Low-Latency Transport Transport systems that interconnect data centers must incur minimal latency. Such applications as high-frequency securities trading (that is only profitable when executed with little or no delay) cannot tolerate significant latency. In addition, the information technology industry has developed applications in which computer processors communicate with each other in real time. When these processors are not collocated, the latency of the data signals flowing between them can adversely affect their applications. Beyond simply requiring low-latency transport, data center operators need verification that the systems are, indeed, providing low-latency connections. Some vendors are responding to this demand with on-board latency testing and are even providing continuous monitoring used to verify latencybased service level agreements (SLAs). Security Focus Along with high availability and low latency, data center operators demand absolute security for their services. Service providers often consider their fiber networks as inherently secure, but the data center industry considers the security of optical transport as only a beginning. Multiple vendors now provide wire-speed encryption in their optical networking systems, and some support Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS)-certified encryption for use by the U.S. government and other regulated industries (such as financial and healthcare institutions). In addition, vendors can enhance security by providing their systems with a security-hardened software architecture. Virtualization Perhaps the highest value-add provided by a network would be the virtualization of higher-layer resources for the application running in the data center. This virtualization requires servers to have control of the physical network, a capability that some equipment systems vendors are developing as a network hypervisor and others are pursuing through OpenFlow control of the network. Regardless, the virtualization of the network will require joint development of storage, server, and network systems vendors. Examples of this collaboration can be seen in Ciena s May 2011 Network Hypervisor demonstration with several cloud and network virtualization providers, including EMC and VMware, and the HP and Alcatel-Lucent announcement of a new combined carrier and enterprise data center technology offering, marketed as the Network Connect (DCNC) solution (please see Alcatel-Lucent and HP Collaborate on Next Generation Carrier Cloud Offering, December 6, 2011). Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 3

4 Recommended Actions Recommended Vendor Actions Alcatel-Lucent needs to introduce low-latency features and consider adding InfiniBand support to the client interface modules of its Network Connect (DCNC) offering to broaden the applications of its solution. Though the DCNC announcement mentioned the need for low-latency support, it did not specify how the vendor s High Leverage Network (HLN) architecture would reduce latency, and its 1830 PSS optical networking platform does not offer InfiniBand capability. Low latency is particularly critical to data center interconnections. Cisco and Juniper should employ their data center experience and contacts to expand into the data center interconnection market. These vendors currently propose routers to interconnect data centers, but a Layer 3 connection introduces excessive latency. Juniper could be particularly well positioned to offer Layer 2 (either Ethernet or MPLS) data center interconnections off of its QFabric switches. Cisco may be able to employ its flexible packet transport to provide low-latency transport. Both of these vendors have previously focused on data transport within the data center and considered data transport outside the data center as simply wide area network (WAN). Ericsson should apply its SPO 1400 family to data center interconnection, which implies that it targets the data center operators as prospects. The SPO 1410 provides the capacity and low-layer transport capabilities to serve remote data centers, and the SPO 1460 is appropriately sized and equipped to serve the needs of metro core data centers. The vendor should also employ its extensive professional services capabilities to provide full network operation for the end user. However, Ericsson will need to equip these platforms with client modules that support SAN-oriented protocols, since they currently only support typical residential and business services. Fujitsu needs to leverage the data center assets of its parent company to offer a compelling end-toend data center service. The parent company provides mission-critical servers, software, and operating systems and the Fujitsu Global Cloud Platform provides a fully configurable, on-demand IT infrastructure, while Fujitsu Network Communications (FNC) offers metro-focused packet-optical transport platforms. Combined, these solutions could provide the complete data infrastructure solution, but the company would need to overcome the separate foci of its business units. Nokia Siemens Networks should expand its partnership with Juniper to include data center interconnection. NSN commands the transport expertise to offer the required data center interconnection features, and Juniper is well-entrenched in the data center market. Together, these two firms may be able to develop a virtual extension of QFabric to interconnect data centers. Huawei and ZTE need to develop a data center interconnection strategy that will use the appropriate products from their unified access portfolios. Both vendors offer packet-optical access products that would provide the required transport, they have the expertise to develop low-latency features for their products, and Huawei can leverage a recent thrust into the data center solution market. Furthermore, they can employ their professional services capabilities to provide full support to the data center operators. However, these firms will likely be challenged to overcome the political hurdle, at least in the U.S., to be allowed to provide such high-security infrastructure. Recommended User Actions Data-focused service providers need to find equipment vendors that can support end-user requirements, but are not competitors themselves for the data center operator business. Of course, service providers cannot avoid buying equipment from systems vendors, but the vendors that are most specialized in the data center interconnection market also sell directly to the data center operators. In order to minimize this potential conflict, these service providers should select a vendor whose end-user business is miniscule compared to its service provider business. Incumbent service providers need to determine whether they are better positioned to mount a Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 4

5 data center interconnection campaign through their existing contacts with data center operators, or whether they need to partner with an equipment vendor that has specialized in this application. Most of the telecom suppliers to the incumbent service providers have yet to specialize in data center products, so they would be of limited assistance to the service providers in penetrating the data center market. On the other hand, Cisco and Juniper could assist the incumbents in making these contacts. If an incumbent service provider seeks to offer data interconnection service in the near term and is averse to purchasing data center-optimized infrastructure from a small equipment vendor, it should consider suggesting to its traditional major vendor a partnership with (or purchase by) a data centerfocused vendor. The major equipment vendors are beginning to announce data center solutions, but with few exceptions, the messaging precedes their full capability. Of course, the service provider s preference would be a major vendor that has a history of providing these specialized data center connections. If the data center operator decides to purchase optical networking equipment directly from a vendor, it needs to focus on that vendor s capability of providing turnkey design, deployment, and operation of the solution. Most major vendors, which have the prerequisite professional services capabilities, do not specialize in data center connection solutions. Conversely, most vendors which do specialize in data center connection solutions are relatively small, so they are not known for their professional services. However, some of the smaller vendors have made it a point to develop data center support services, and a few of the larger vendors have offered data center-optimized solutions. Europe +33 (0) Or visit our Web site: 5

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