"We look at it as an evolution in the architectural landscape of the data center network," says Bob Laliberte, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "What's driving this is more server-to-server connectivity ... there are all these different pieces that need to talk to each other and go out to the core and back to communicate, and that adds a lot of processing and latency."
Virtualization adds another layer of complexity, he says, because it means dynamically moving things around, "so network vendors have been striving to simplify these complex environments."
When data centers can't scale
As home foreclosures spiked in 2006, Walz Group, which handles document management, fulfillment and regulatory compliance services across multiple industries, found its data center couldn't scale effectively to take on the additional growth required to serve its clients. "IT was impeding the business growth," says Chief Information Security Officer Bart Falzarano.
The company hired additional in-house IT personnel to deal with disparate systems and management, as well as build new servers, extend the network and add disaster recovery services, says Falzarano. "But it was difficult to manage the technology footprint, especially as we tried to move to a virtual environment," he says. The company also had some applications that couldn't be virtualized that would have to be managed differently. "There were different touch points in systems, storage and network. We were becoming counterproductive."
To reduce the complexity, in 2009 Walz Group deployed Cisco's Unified Data Center platform, a unified data center fabric architecture that combines compute, storage, network and management into a platform designed to automate IT as a service, across physical and virtual environments. The platform is connected to a NetApp SAN Storage Flexpod platform.
Previously, when they were using HP technology, Falzarano recalls, one of their database nodes went down, which required getting the vendor on the phone and eventually taking out three of the four CPUs and going through a troubleshooting process that took four hours. By the time they got the part they needed, installed it and returned to normal operations, 14 hours had passed, says Falzarano.
"Now, for the same [type of failure], if we get a degraded blade server node, we un-associate that SQL application and re-associate the SQL app in about four minutes. And you can do the same for a hypervisor," he says.
IT has been tracking the data center performance and benchmarking some of the key metrics, and Falzarano reports that they immediately saw a poor-density reduction of 8 to 1, meaning less cabling complexity and fewer required cables. Where IT previously saw a low virtualization efficiency of 4 to 1 with the earlier technology, Falzarano says that's now greater than 15 to 1, and the team can virtualize apps that it couldn't before.
Other findings include a rack reduction of greater than 50 percent due to the amount of virtualization the IT team was able to achieve; more centralized systems management -- now one IT engineer handles 50 systems -- and what Falzarano refers to as "system mean time before failure."
"We were experiencing a large amount of hardware failures with our past technology; one to two failures every 30 days across our multiple data centers. Now we are experiencing less than one failure per year," he says.