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Extreme Builds VEPA Into Data Center Strategy

Networking vendor Extreme Networks is using Gartner's Data Center Conference as the forum to unveil its vision for data center networking. Unfortunately, this appears to be a repackaging of existing solutions, rather than a long term strategy to integrate with the changing data center. Extreme is also lacking the important OEM/reseller agreements with server vendors that Brocade and Juniper have inked this year. Extreme does, however, offer a look at an alternative approach to the virtual network switch, relying on proposed new standards designed to improve visibility into the networks built around virtualized machines.

Today, Extreme enables customers to leverage a combination of its port profiling, widget and XML solutions to handle the dynamic nature of virtualized environments. If, for example, a virtual machine is moved from one physical server to another, Extreme switches will adjust the VLAN, QoS and other settings for that VM to reflect the move. Administrators also have the ability to manage the network programmatically, using a combination of port profiling, widgets and XML integration to handle the dynamic nature of virtualized environments. Extreme cites a case where a small widget is used by a customer to shut down switch blades during scheduled downtime, resulting in a significant energy savings. What Extreme's products lack, however, is network visibility into the virtual switches built into the virtual servers themselves.

Along with highlighting how it supports the virtualized data center, Extreme also promises support for up and coming technologies, including 40G and 100G, as well as the Virtual Ethernet Port Aggregator (VEPA) standard making its way through the IEEE. The goal of VEPA is to replace the virtual network switches needed on virtualized servers. Under VEPA, all network traffic would be pushed to the physical switch, even if that traffic is going to back across the same physical port to another virtual machine. 

One benefit to VEPA, according to Extreme, is that because all of the packets are managed by the physical switch gear, network traffic in a virtualized data center has the same level of visibility as the physical network and can leverage the same monitoring and diagnostic tools. Furthermore, with the networking hardware performing the role it was designed to do, moving packets, the overhead of having a virtual switch running on the server is eliminated. Last but certainly not least, VEPA rebuilds a necessary segregation between network and server administration teams within an organization, enabling administrators to focus on their part of the infrastructure without stepping on other toes. 

While VEPA has the potential to resolve some of the pain points of data center networking, it is also a solution that will not be available for some time. Paul Congdon, CTO of HP Procurve, said the IEEE task group working on VEPA is awaiting approval by the IEEE New Standards Committee (NESCOM). The group did have its first official conference call this week after several months of unofficial calls.

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