Easy to implement
Like the IT executives at Walz Group, IT team leaders at GEHA believed that deploying a fabric model would not only meet the business requirements, but also reduce complexity, cost and staff needed to manage the data center. Bryan says the association also gained economies of scale by having a staff of two people who can manage an all-Ethernet environment, as opposed to needing additional personnel who are familiar with Fibre Channel.
"We didn't have anyone on our team who was an expert in Fibre Channel, and the only way to achieve getting the claims processing system to be redundant and highly available was to leverage the Ethernet fabric expertise, which we had on staff," he says.
Bryan says the association has been able to trim "probably a half million dollars of capital off the budget" since it didn't have to purchase any Fibre Channel switching, and a quarter of a million dollars in operating expenses since it didn't need staff to manage Fibre Channel. "Since collapsing everything to an Ethernet fabric, I was able to eliminate a whole stack of equipment," says Bryan.
GEHA used a local managed services provider to help with setting up some of the more complex pieces of the architecture. "But from the time we unpacked the boxes to the time the environment was running was two days," says Bryan. "It was very straightforward."
And the performance, he adds, is "jaw-dropping." A test they did copying a 4-gigabyte ISO file from one blade to another blade through the network, with the network and storage going through the same fabric, occurred in less than a second, "and we didn't even see the transfer; I didn't think it actually copied," he says.
IT has now utilized the fabric for its backup environment with software from CommVault. Bryan says the association is seeing performance of about a terabyte an hour of throughput on the network, "which is probably eight to 10 times greater than before" the fabric was in place.
Today, all of GEHA's production traffic is on the fabric, and Bryan says he couldn't be more pleased with the infrastructure. He says scaling it out is not an issue, and is one of the major advantages with converged fabric and speed. GEHA is also able to run a very dense workload of virtual machines on a single blade, he says. "Instead of having to spend a lot of money on a lot of blades, you can increase the ROI on those blades without sacrificing performance," says Bryan.
Laliberte says he sees a long life ahead for data center fabrics, noting that this type of architecture "is just getting started. If you think about complexity and size, and you have thousands of servers in your environment and thousands of switches, any kind of architecture change isn't done lightly and takes time to evolve."
Just as it took time for a three-tier architecture to evolve, it will take time for three tier to get broken down to two tier, he says, adding that flat fabric is the next logical step. "These things get announced and are available, but it still takes years to get widespread deployments," says Laliberte.
Case study: Fabrics at work
When he used to look around his data center, all Dan Shipley would see was "a spaghetti mess" of cables and switches that were expensive to manage and error-prone. Shipley, architect at $600 million Supplies Network, a St. Louis-based wholesaler of office products, says the company had all the typical issues associated with a traditional infrastructure: some 300 servers that consumed a lot of power, took up a lot of space and experienced downtime due to hardware maintenance.