Lippis Report 175: Cisco’s Data Center Fabric Weaves Computing, Networking and Storage for iBusiness Outcomes

The tech sector is at a crossroads. In just 18 short months, mobile and cloud computing has fundamentally changed business assumptions and technical underpinnings of IT delivery. And in the process IT business leaders are fundamentally changing their buying requirements and corporate IT investments challenging existing vendor relationships. The tech sector served up corporate IT along technical lines of computing, networking, storage and applications, but these lines are blurring as every major multi-billion dollar IT firm now seeks to deliver vertical offerings comprised of a single rack of compute, storage and networking to address scale and simplicity associated with the new mobile and cloud computing models. Cisco, IBM, HP, Dell and Oracle all are repositioning their data center offers to address the market opportunity and shift to assist IT leaders building iBusinesses. In this Lippis Report Research Note, we dive into Cisco’s Data Center Fabric as it’s the furthest along at integrating compute, networking and storage access for corporate advantage offering a glimpse of IT’s future.

Cisco’s Data Center Fabric Vision And Customer Business Outcomes

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What’s driving a new fabric or structure of data centers is rooted in the interplay between technology and business opportunity. The efficiency of server virtualization to reduce energy consumption and increase server utilization drove its massive deployment that was boosted by an economic cycle starving for efficiency. At nearly the same time, mobile computing, thanks in large part to Apple’s iPhone and iPad plus Google’s android- based devices, introduced a new tier of computing that unleashed increased corporate productivity, evident in today’s productivity boom. Equipped with a new IT delivery model that is both more flexible and centralized, IT business leaders have begun en masse to build private cloud facilities.

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The iBusiness

The end result is the construction of iBusinesses that possess simultaneously lower IT cost and the ability to quickly address market dynamics, thanks to faster application deployments plus a nimbler and mobile workforce. While it’s too early to aggregate the benefits of iBusiness in terms of productivity improvements, market share gains, IT expense as a percentage of corporate revenue and other metrics, early adopters are experiencing improvements that span IT departments and most importantly, corporate operations.

Cisco Delivers End-to-End Data Center LAN/SAN Convergence

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In short, a Data Center Fabric of compute, networking and storage reduce IT operational cost, the largest budget component of IT Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and provide the foundation for a faster responding business that is able to exploit the value of mobile and cloud computing to corporate advantage.

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Data Center Fabric Requirements

A core set of data center fabric requirements is emerging, thanks to early adopter deployments that possess the following attributes fundamental to iBusinesses.

TRILL in the Data Center: Look Before You Leap

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Scale: Computational density is increasing at a fast pace with the ability to support hundreds to hundreds of thousands of servers per data center. This increased density of computing is also driving higher virtualization ratios as the ratio of virtual to physical servers is increasing from 10:1 to soon 60:1, which taxes the logical network of MAC address, /32 IP host route table size and ARP entry size. The ability to support both east-west and north-south traffic flows over an increasingly 10GbE and 40GbE low latency, non-blocking, high performance network fabric has become paramount as small queries from mobile devices drive a tsunami of east-west plus north-south data center traffic flows, all of which must be combined and transmitted back to the mobile device at millisecond speeds.

The Avaya Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture

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Mobility: As virtual machines (VMs) are moved within and between racks of computing and between data centers plus between private and public cloud facilities, the ability of the Data Center Fabric to support such moves is fundamental. VM aware Data Center Fabrics support VM mobility, allowing IT business leaders to maximize efficiency while enabling a degree of freedom to move containers of IT workloads (data, applications, VMs) as business requirements demand.

The Strategic Network

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Consolidated IO: A significant cost reduction strategy and performance enhancement is the deployment of a single physical 10GbE and soon 40GbE network that supports both storage and network traffic. Cost savings is found in reduced cabling requirements, storage and network switches as well as server network and storage interface cards.

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Consolidated Management: As compute, storage and networking converge into a single virtualized Data Center Fabric, the ability to manage these resources across operational groups become increasingly important. Not only is the technology converging, but IT organizational design is under review to focus this human resource into a services organization rather than siloed technology departments. The ability to manage the Data Center Fabric as a centralized resource that is partitioned to unique IT departments is an aid to organization re-design. It’s very helpful that a common look and feel for all resources be available so as to hasten a learning curve and accelerate cross-discipline service delivery.

Manufacturer Accelerates Business Cycle Times

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Cloud Enabled: The combination of the above attributes results in a Data Center Fabric that is cloud-enabled, meaning that containers of workload are movable not only within a data center but also between them and into private and public cloud facilities. The ability to move workloads provides IT leaders with the tools to expand and contract their IT resources and shop their IT needs from a wide range of cloud providers, assuring executive management that their IT cost is competitive.


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iBusiness Outcomes

Those who have deployed a Data Center Fabric are rewarded with favorable business outcome results. Cisco’s Data Center Fabric unifies network services, networking and storage plus computing through its Unified Network Services (UNS), Unified Fabric (UF) and Unified Computing System (UCS), respectively. Early adopters have benefited by viewing and procuring their data center assets from this unified holistic perspective versus compute, network and storage separately. For example, Kindred Healthcare saved approximately $6.6M on just cabling cost for a 1,000-server data center, thanks to its deployment of a Data Center Fabric. Additional operational savings was gained by a reduction in the number of management points the operations group has to manage too. To Kindred’s surprise and delight they noticed that the Data Center Fabric enabled different groups—the virtualization team, the network team, and the storage team—to work together as one on a common platform versus in silos; a huge help to hasten deployments especially as Kindred has been growing through acquisitions.

The EssentialCIO Insights from the Global Chief Information Officer Study

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Other early adopters are Almaviva wine producers that saw its revenue increase 2 to 3%, thanks to its data center fabric deployment that also reduced its cabling and power consumption cost by 70% and 60%, respectively. Tutor Perini Corporation was able to reduce its device count and power consumption by 60% and 38%, respectively. Coca Cola was able to consolidate 80 servers down to four, plus reduced cabling 30 to 60%. Terremark saw a 30% improvement in application performance and server density increased by a factor of four. The Apollo Group, owner of the University of Phoenix and other educational properties, doubled the size of its network without an increase in IT staff, lowered per-port switching cost while increasing port volume and freed up several rows of space in its data centers. Avago Technologies, a manufacturer, accelerated batch processing by 30 to 40%, increased business flexibility and decreased operational cost by 40% while adding a third data center. CareCore National, a health benefit management concern, increased business agility by being able to launch new lines of business in just two weeks, down from six months. These iBusinesses’ benefits were gained, in large part through the insight and leadership of IT executives and their deployment of Cisco’s Data Center Fabric architecture.

Distributed Core Architecture Using the Z9000 Core Switching System

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Cisco has been investing heavily in its Data Center Fabric portfolio. It owns some 80% of the data center switching market and in just two short years, possesses the number three-market share ranking for x86 blade servers worldwide, behind HP and IBM, according to an IDC report released in May. Over the past quarter, Cisco has added to its UF portfolio with the new Nexus 3000, 5548 and 5596 switches. It has expanded its Fabric Extender (FEX) offering to include the adapter and VM FEX, a key technology in converged IO plus virtualization aware networking. To increase mobility of workloads, it has added IP address location independence with its OTV (Overlay Transport Virtualization) and LISP (Location ID/Separation Protocol) features to its Nexus Operating System. Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) can traverse more devices, thanks to a new director-class multihop FCoE feature available on the Nexus 7000 and MDS 9500. Data Center LANs, SANs and virtualization infrastructure can now be managed via a single pane of glass, thanks to the Cisco Data Center Network Manager. On the computing side, Cisco has expanded the UCS server portfolio with multiple form factors, including Blade and Rack-Mounted, and in the process, has broke three world performance records. Cisco has followed up that with a new set of I/O components for UCS, which was just announced on July 13th.

Virtualization Success Depends on Network Automation The Advent of Virtualization

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At the crossroads of the tech industry are two paths; one is a legacy approach of building data centers by acquiring compute, storage and networking gear separately with IT professionals integrating these components. The other road is one of vertically-integrated offerings of compute, storage and networking where IT professionals focus on automating business processes turning their corporation into an agile iBusiness. I advise choosing the latter.

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