Enterprises converge networks to maximize IT assets

Users say they carefully evaluate pros, cons and future application growth

DALLAS - For many of the IT professionals attending Storage Networking World here, combining communications, server and storage networks is an appealing prospect. Some companies are already in the middle of converging on an IP network and others see it in their future.

Still, there were a large percentage of users who plan to stay with a three-tiered network architecture.

When polled through wireless devices, an audience of several hundred SNW attendees was split on the issue. Twenty-six percent indicated they plan to move to converged networks that use the Fibre Channel over Ethernet protocol on their IP network; 13% responded they're going to an all IP network made up of NAS and iSCSI storage protocols as well as storage through the public cloud ; 25% indicated they plan to keep their network infrastructure as is for the foreseeable future. However, 33% of respondents indicated they are "still sorting out the hype" and trying to determine the cost of recabling. SNW sponsored by Computerworld.

Omer Siddiqui, deputy CIO of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority, which serves 150,000 customers in the Washington area, said his agency is in the midst of deploying a "flat network" (consolidated Ethernet network) driven by a need to reduce complexity.

"It was a wakeup call when one time we had to implement a simple fix or patch for our networks and it brought everything to its knees," he said. "We came to the realization that we had a very complex set of switches and routers."

Siddiqui said organizations should perform an annual assessment of their networks in order to get a picture of where and how many bottlenecks exist in order to determine if there are areas for improvement or even a complete overhaul.

"We went through the evaluation. There are networks out there that have too many moving parts and manageability becomes a nightmare," he said.

As DC Water and Sewer build out its network of the future it is keeping in mind the need for scalability, and minimizing I/O latency. For example, can the network be used to quickly deploy new organizational network policies, Siddiqui said. "All these factors contributed to making our decision," he said.

The agency has completed the network design and is now in the implementation phase. As the water authority implements a single IP network to handle all of its data, it is also expanding the reach of its network from five offices to nearly 200 mobile trucks, which extends the network for the first time outside of the company's firewall, so security is a major concern.

"How do we secure them, ensure we're scalable and, most important, make sure it's successful?" he said, adding that a single management interface will help to ensure policy-based security methods are met.

Siddiqui said his agency has about 1,500 servers that run through two primary data centers. The two data centers are running off 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series Supervisor Engine 720 switches. Siddiqui was able to consolidate his network from 35 edge switches down to about 20 with the new core switches.

Rob Davis, chief technology officer of switch maker QLogic, said 80% of all enterprises still have gigabyte Ethernet networks and would need to upgrade to 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet to handle converged data traffic.

"I think it's a trend that's been emerging over the last six to nine months. There are some networking companies, not so much Cisco, but Juniper that have really been beating the drum on this," he said. "I think virtualization is a big factor. I think it's a trend that's going to be happening over the next two to five years."

Siddiqui said organizations should consider a converged network if they foresee many new enterprise-level and mobile applications in their future. "The bottom line is cost, manageability ... and scalability," he said. "You're talking about spending a couple of million bucks."

The greatest risk, Siddiqui said, is making sure the network is scalable. "You want to make sure you're evaluating not only today's requirements but requirements at least a few years out."

James Robertson, vice president of technology infrastructure and broadcast transmissions for Turner Broadcasting, said his company has transitioned to a converged IP network to handle almost all data throughput. About 70% to 80% of all high-resolution video editing and high-definition broadcasting traffic within his company runs over IP networks, the same one that hosts corporate e-mail and desktop traffic.

All together, Turner Broadcasting has about 600 IP channels in its Atlanta facilities, which "gives it a lot more flexibility because we're delivering it as multicast than a television jack in every office. I can deliver that multicast stream to anywhere you want anywhere on our infrastructure anytime you want it."

Robertson said the shift to a converged IP network came as a necessity as the business changed to an all-digital video format, requiring faster response times to breaking news and new programs.

Turner Networks is also pushing somewhere around 10 times that data contained in the Library of Congress, hundreds of terabytes, through its CNN cable network on an hourly basis, Robertson said.

"There's more CAT 6 and IP connectivity now in our terminal gear room than there is traditional video cable. We have to be able to serve up that content bigger, better and faster. Time to market in our industry is important. News only breaks once and for only a certain period of time. After that, it's old news," Robertson said. "Where we're really headed is the cloud."

Robertson said his IT infrastructure also needs to be flexible enough to support about 1,000 personal AppleiPads that employees bring to work for business use.

At the same time, Turner Broadcasting has not increased its IT staff or budget since 2007, he said.

Robertson said he has 150 IT workers to manage about 3,500 devices - servers, switches and backend storage -- and more than 250 WAN circuits, but he only has 10 universal network engineers, who are the bread and butter of his network infrastructure.

Turner Broadcasting consolidated its architecture to five common data sharing platforms. There are no more than three firmware versions of a platform deployed at any one time, and there is only one WAN, one LAN, and one special network for high throughput.

Instead of providing business units with quality of service guarantees, Robertson said it's easier and more effective to simply overprovision bandwidth through the use of larger local Ethernet loops.

Robertson said over the next few weeks, he plans to sign a deal for a new Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) platform that will be 50% to 70% less expensive than the company's current switched infrastructure. The project is expected to translate into $1.5 million in savings.

"We've moved to a layer 3 [switching] infrastructure and removed layer 2. Layer three fails over nicely and it scales well," he said. "It's great to be agile, but if you can't deliver on it, it doesn't matter."

Lucas Mearian covers storage; disaster recovery and business continuity; financial services infrastructure; health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter @lucasmearian , send e-mail at lmearian@computerworld.com or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed .

Read more about storage in Computerworld's Storage Topic Center.

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Lucas Mearian

Lucas Mearian

Computerworld (US)
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