Lippis Report 120: Cloud Computing Drives New Networking Requirements

Nick LippisThe data center market has been undergoing tremendous change over the past 24 months, with consolidation, green projects and virtualization deployments accelerating, thanks in part to the bleeding macro economic climate. Building upon the next phase of data center virtualization is cloud computing, which in 2008 ushered in initiatives with announcements made by nearly every computer, software, networking, internet hosting and storage concern. While it’s clear that the industry is in the center of the hype curve a simple example reveals that the hype is justified. One well-known example demonstrating the power of cloud computing is animoto and Amazon. In April of ’08 animoto, a music video production application on Facebook ramped up from 25,000 to 250,000 users in three quick days scaling from 50 instances of usage on Amazon’s EC2 cloud service to 3,500 without service interruption; that’s like having nearly 4,000 servers to support this application.

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Just think of all the planning and cost that would be needed to accommodate that demand without cloud computing! To understand the scale consider that large content providers are building public clouds consisting of physical containers equipped with 100,000 plus servers while private clouds are being designed with 1/10th to 1/100th the size or 10 to 1 thousand servers. Animoto is an app that is being consumed and served on a massive scale without the company’s need to expense a data center thanks to a public cloud computing service.

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It’s examples like animoto that are driving demand and usage up on public cloud services such as Amazon’s EC2 and has caught the eye of IT leaders as they view with envy the ability to scale applications up and down based upon demand. Enterprise or private clouds seek to replicate public cloud services with an aim to achieve the same level of elasticity but with tight control over security and manageability while avoiding 3rd party support issues.

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Integral to cloud computing discussions is the fact that the industry is creating a new IT delivery platform and associated economics. IT products have always burdened IT organizations with high operational support, which dominates IT infrastructure total cost of ownership (TCO). Just think about it: desktop computers loaded with an operating system and applications are replicated to every employee, often multiple times thanks to laptop and notebook computers which IT operations needs to support. As network speeds increase to the 10GbE, 40 GbE and 100GbE range the difference between local and distributed application response time narrows to the barely noticeable. This new IT delivery platform known as cloud computing has a value proposition promise that radically changes/lowers TCO economics while at the same time offering massive scale and elasticity to spin applications up and down based upon demand. And this is good news for business and IT leaders searching for new business and IT delivery models with attractive economic profiles.

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At the center of cloud computing is cloud networking. Virtualization and cloud computing are modifying the boundaries between computing, storage and networking. Virtualization decouples applications and operating systems from server hardware with the result being fewer servers to support more applications. The value of cloud computing is that it transparently makes software and data available everywhere thanks to stateless computing. This “stateless” model facilitates much greater scalability than conventional computing and when used in conjunction with virtualization maximum data center utilization is achieved. Cloud then eliminates the need for separate storage area networks in exchange for network attached file storage. To make virtualization and cloud computing work the data center network or the cloud network has to deliver specific attributes. These attributes are contained in both product/switches and network design. First let’s review device attributes and we’ll cover cloud network design in another Lippis Report edition.

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Gbs Ethernet Speeds: Server connections while currently dominated by 1GbE are quickly moving to 10Gbs in cloud implementations thanks to both performance demand and cost. Server vendors are adding 10G NICs to their motherboards and low-cost SFP copper interconnect. The cost per 10G connection continues to drop and currently is at a price point of twice the typical gigabit Ethernet connection of $200-$250/port. In addition to 10GbE, 40GbE and 100GbE are on the horizon enabling storage and compute systems to drive the network at higher speeds to realize the full performance potential of this hardware investment and support the re-distribution of compute, applications and storage functions in a virtualized world.

Ultra Low Latency: To support the scale and user performance requirements of cloud computing, network latency needs to be both consistent and very low. One of the best latency numbers we’ve seen is Arista’s 7148SX which delivers packets independent upon size in the .6 microsecond range. Other products are in the 3-to-3.5 microsecond range. In addition to latency, packet throughput at 100% maximum line rate at 10GbE for multicast and broadcast independent of packet size is important too as video such as animoto shows represent a large and growing portion of both corporate and internet bandwidth.

Lower Power Consumption: With the average cost per kilo Watt-hour at ten cents, switch power consumption cost can vary depending upon port speeds, power supply efficiency and utilization. On an annual basis switch energy cost can be as much as a few thousand dollars per switch. For very large public cloud deployments network energy cost can be a few million dollars annually or nearly the network’s capital cost.

Non-blocking: The days of under subscribing the network core of bandwidth and relying on buffers and queue management to manage congestion are over in cloud computing. The network must be non-blocking so that no packet has to wait as it travels between storage and compute.

Non-Stop Operation: The cloud network operates 24×7 and cannot disrupt service by failure or maintenance and by definition requires a new level of reliability. Switches that make up the cloud network need to be self-healing at a software modular level and offer transparent in-service software updates. In short one software feature failure cannot bring down the entire software image.

Management: In large cloud networks automated provisioning, monitoring, maintenance, upgrading and troubleshooting is required to eliminate the complexity and risk of real-time upgrades and image/patch management.

There are four primary suppliers of Cloud Networking. Cisco’s Nexus switches offer a complete solution from server connect, inter-switch and certain storage connections. The Nexus 7000 is a large chassis-based switch for core inter-switch and storage connections while the Nexus 5000 is a modular switch positioned for the distribution layer plus storage connections. Cisco provides the Nexus 1000 and 2000 which are port extenders designed for server connections. The port extenders currently obtain configuration information from the Nexus 5000.

HP ProCurve is new to the data center with its 6600 series of switches, which are focused exclusively on top-of-rack and end-of-row server connections at 1 and 10GbE. Its enterprise 5400 and 8200 switches provide distribution and end-of-row and core-layer connections. Blade Network Technologies offers the RackSwitch family of switches consisting of the G8000, a 1/10GbE switch, the G8100 a 10GbE top-of-rack switch and G8124, a 24 port 10GbE switch with SFP+ connectors. All of Blade Network Technologies switches are exclusively for server connections. They also boast of their VMready software resident on their RackSwitch switches, which automate VM migration across network.

The newest company to enter the cloud networking space is Arista Networks. Arista offers the 7100 series of datacenter Ethernet switches for rack and blade server aggregation. The 7100 series includes the 7148X, a 48 port non-blocking 10GbE switch; the 7148S, a 48 port slightly blocking 10GbE switch; and the 7124S, a 24 port non-blocking 10GbE switch. Arista is unique in three aspects:

  1. Extensible Operating System (EOS) delivers a modular protected memory architecture that ensures reliability and availability as each process is monitored and restarted automatically in response to failure, while in-service software upgrades (ISSU) allow individual software components to be updated without disrupting system operation.
  2. Raw performance measured in non-blocking packet throughput at line rate and low latency independent of packet size and traffic type while the switches are fully populated with both 1 and 10GbE.
  3. Its two-tier architecture of leaf and spine where leafs connect servers and spines connect switches eliminates the access layer of the traditional access, distribution and core, collapsing network design into a simpler two-tier structure.

The Arista switches were designed for cloud hosting and PaaS providers, market data and electronic trading, high scale web environments, analytics, Hadoop and large scale data processing, virtualized environments, cloud storage and video content creation and delivery.

Other switch firms will more than likely announce new switches for cloud networking over the next few quarters. For example, Force10 has invested in virtualization and automation with cloud networking being a natural next step. Extreme Networks offers its Summit X650, a top-of-rack switch designed for 10 GbE server connections in enterprise data centers. Foundry Networks (now Brocade) offers its BigIron Ethernet switches for data center applications.

There are vendor options for cloud networking. Cisco and Arista have developed new products and operating systems to support this market. Others will be sure to follow as infrastructure spending for cloud computing is projected to reach $42B in 2012, according to IDC. That level of spending represents about one fourth of all IT infrastructure spend in 2012, growing at a rate of 25% a year. Did someone mention a recession?

5 Debates over Lippis Report 120: Cloud Computing Drives New Networking Requirements

  1. Nick Lippis said:

    Lippis Report 120: Cloud Computing Drives New Networking Requirements

  2. Nick Lippis said:

    Lippis Report 120: Cloud Computing Drives New Networking Requirements

  3. Cloud computing drives new networking requirements « said:

    […] Cloud computing drives new networking requirements The Lippis Report outlines the new networking requirements that are being driven by cloud computing.  Among the key requirements: Ethernet (at multi-gigabit rates); ultra-low latency; low power consumption; and non-blocking throughput.  Sounds awful familiar.  Read the report… […]

  4. Cloud Computing – A Primer « Internet Protocol Forum said:

    […] “Cloud Computing Drives New Networking Requirements,” The Lippis Report, 120,… […]

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