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Are The Networking Leaders Ready For A Shakeup?

Being the market leader has its advantages. You set the agenda, for instance, but
every so often the agenda is driven by outside forces. In
technology, this happens when a new standard is going to become widely
adopted, and at that point there is a chance for one of the third or
forth-place companies to become the new leader. We saw this when storage
area networking came to prominence, and we may be seeing it again as we
potentially reach the end of spanning tree protocol (STP).

As we discussed in our recent article "What is TRILL?,"
with the tremendous growth in data centers and the seemingly eventual
move to all things being Ethernet-based, the limitations of STP and the
complications caused by working around those limitations, especially
in a virtualized environment, are beginning to impact data center
agility. Ideally, the entire network would be a flat, single network, but
the limitations of spanning tree protocol (STP) won't allow that to happen. Currently, most networks
have to be carefully designed to work around STP's limitations, which
leads to a mix of Layer 2 and Layer 3 network infrastructures.

There seems to be a consensus among the major network players that Transparent Interconnection Of Lots of Links, (TRILL),
is the logical replacement for STP. If so, this is going to require a
change in the network infrastructure. I am reminded of the days when
Novell NetWare introduced the concepts of directory services, which
required a redesign of the networking infrastructure. It had
to happen, and if you were going to do it, you might as well look at what
Microsoft and others had to offer.

I think the same will be true as we move out of STP and into flat layer 2
networking. If you are going to have to gradually begin to replace your
current network infrastructure gear, it probably makes sense to see
what the competitors in the space have to offer. Many transitions start
by borrowing sound technologies in adjacent markets and implementing
them. TRILL, for example, borrows the idea of a multi-pathing fabric from
FC SANs, which is taking root as the for equal-cost, multi-pathing for
Ethernet, essentially, an "Ethernet Fabric." Also, while TRILL will be the standard, it will potentially be just the
starting point for each of these vendors, and they may each add
individual capabilities to their products that may make their switches
more compelling than someone else's. While this can create some
compatibility concerns, the feature set may be so compelling that it
outweighs those concerns. Worst case, just like SANs today, you will
probably be able to switch back to a compatibility mode.

The point is that TRILL will be a flashpoint that provides an
opportunity for users to broadly consider other competitors to the
market leader. With these types of changes on the horizon, it is going to
be a change filled several years in networking. When we are done with
implementing the new infrastructures it will be interesting to see what
logos remain.