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Throwing Bandwidth At Your Network Problems Isn't Enough

The data center is undergoing an unprecedented change, with new demands, vendors, technologies and architectures. In a three-part series, Network Computing takes a closer look at what's happening in the data center, starting with networking, and followed by servers and architectures.

In the recent IT Pro Ranking: Data Center Networking Vendor Evaluation Survey (Network Computing Pro, subscription required), almost half of the respondents indicated they were prepared to consider a wider range of suppliers. The survey found that HP tied Cisco and Brocade in overall performance across 10 customer-rated criteria, with other vendors close behind.

Cisco (Ethernet) and Brocade (Fibre Channel) have dominated the data center networking market. HP is making strong inroads, as is Juniper, with IBM, Dell and Avaya also in the mix. For its last quarter, Cisco reported that switching sales dropped 7 percent and routing sales rose 4 percent, but it expects those numbers to climb as it's in the midst of a complete product upgrade.

Toward the end of 2010 Brocade announced that it was the first vendor to bring end-to-end multihop Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) to the market. In March, Juniper unveiled its vision for networking the data center, called Qfabric, which collapses the typical three layers of networking equipment into one for faster performance, lower latency, better scalability, reduced power consumption and lower cost . Shortly after that, Avaya extended its Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA), which debuted last November, beyond the data center to the campus network, adding its virtualization capabilities.

Although Forester Senior Analyst Andre Kindness sees Avaya, Arista, Brocade, Cisco and Juniper as furthest ahead in their vision, resources and product depth/maturity for attacking the data center, none of them has all five of the key capabilities necessary for the next generation network: virtual switches; hybrid switches; mesh networking and flatter topologies; storage onto Ethernet; and a new network management structure. "The vendors have two or three of the capabilities and have different strengths," he says.

Kindness says Cisco is furthest ahead of its competitors. "To Cisco's credit, it saw the data center evolution way before any other networking vendors, and started to build a set of products and solutions directed at a converged, integrated and virtual world. With a series of launches over this past year, it offers the largest collection of tools, services and support to enable a networking platform to support virtualization, consolidation and convergence. It's difficult to foresee any solution coming out within the year that will be on par with all their capabilities. This also comes at a price--complexity. In keeping with tradition, their solutions will require a lot [Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts] and specialized personnel."

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