Beyond Feeds and Speeds: Cisco Advantage for Storage Networks

May 3, 2011 - 0 Comments

A friend of mine told me the other day, “I have been working hard for 15 years and I deserve a sexy car.”  I asked him what he had in mind, does he want a fast, cool car to show off  or full-featured, cool utility vehicle he’ll use every day to make his life easier, taking his son to soccer practice, traveling with his family, and picking up office supplies for his business.  He quickly realized the fastest car will not support many of his needs and also is very expensive. Like all of us, he has a budget to work with and of course need to get approval from his real boss :).  What advice would you give him?

Your choice

Now let’s take this analogy into the data center world  – IT managers are moving in the direction of virtualization and cloud-based computing, and these moves have profound impact on how you design and manage your data center infrastructure. 

Convergence of SAN/LAN and 16G FC “Where and When”

Currently most of the SAN are either running 4/8G FC and your option is either 16G FC or 10G FCoE (soon to be 40G and later 100G FCoE).  Convergence of SAN and LAN enables network unification which in turn reduces cost and simplifies end to end management and operational tasks.

If you’re a SAN architect, the question is, are you looking into (slightly) faster ports now or are you looking to consolidate and reduce your infrastructure cost, future-proof your network, and accommodate much greater speeds in the future when you really need them?  Before you answer that question, let’s consider these data points:

  • None of the storage arrays (as of today) have 16G FC
  • ~70% of all storage ports are used for server connectivity
  • ~50% of servers in the data center are virtualized
  • ~90% of virtual servers are attached to network storage (NAS or SAN)
  • Virtual servers need to handle both file and block workloads and thus require multiprotocol adaptability
    • Higher speed ports (16G FC) may have limited applicability for ISLs – but  40G and 100 G  (with FCOE support) will easily scale and accommodate those requirements in the near future

As an IT professional, you’re looking for wire-once agility and ways to lower the cabling, power and cooling costs, which means you need to pick a technology to reduce your overall cost – not a technology that will force you to build two separate networks.

The pressing need in storage networking today is for “smarter” connectivity with proven investment protection, not just (temporarily) higher speed.  Converged smarter connectivity reduces your overall costs, unlike building a separate network. (Keep in mind, there is applicability for 16G in very specific use cases with market demand starting in late 2012 and beyond, and we will support those cases also.)

And when is speed not really speedy?  In other words, with 16G, what speed are you really getting?   16G FC is not as fast as you think – if you go with 16G today, you will sacrifice current and future benefits for, well, not really very much gain in speed.

Here is a snapshot of what we mean, for more details please read the blog by J Metz.  For example, moving from 8G FC to 10G FCoE gains 50% in speed with convergence benefits and investment protection for faster speeds down the road:

 When you’re looking at your data center network, consider the Cisco Advantage:

1) Cisco Unified Fabric lowers the cost of storage networking and provides wire-once agility to meet exacting demands today and in the future
2) Cisco has delivered many INDUSTRY-FIRST innovations:
  > Pioneered FCoE in 2008
  > First with director-class, multihop FCoE
  > Unique offer of Unified Ports for unprecedented, multiprotocol flexibility
3) VM-level Intelligence offering parity for physical and virtual server management and troubleshooting
4) End-to-End architecture to support high performance, secure, flexible, long distance, reliable BC/DR solutions
5) Common Data Center OS (NX-OS) across compute, LAN and SAN networking platforms with an integrated, converged management platform in Data Center Network Manager (DCNM) offering unprecedented visibility and trouble- shooting across LAN and SAN 

Implications for Storage Networking:

  1. Lower cost for SAN networking
  2. Multi-protocol support for wire-once flexibility
  3. VM-level visibility and manageability
  4. Enhanced Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity
  5. Standardization of infrastructure
  6. Lower TCO

As a former data center manager for classified military-grade installations, my advice to you is to consider convergence starting from your access layer then moving into your core network.  With its lack of industry support and lack of features, 16G FC is not well-suited to generic storage needs today and should be reserved today only if you have special needs, such as animation video editing, that may require an ISL speed bump now.

Even with a special needs scenario today, consider the implications for the future, do you really want to drive that sports car into a dead end alley?  All the speed in the world won’t get you very far without a road ahead.

Tony Antony
Sr Marketing Manager

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