Many of you have seen the press announcement this week from Cisco about their next generation Nexus switches. These products continue Cisco’s push towards their “Data Center 3.0” vision that includes a unified fabric – network and storage traffic over the same physical medium.
Burton Group shares a similar vision about the future data center; we call it the Dynamic Data Center. A dynamic data center requires un-tethered mobility of resources. Server virtualization is but one key building block offering agility, with storage and network virtualization being others. Cisco introduced the unified fabric concept over a year ago, and with this recent announcement, is focusing on supporting the growth of server virtualization within the data center.
Now onto the subject of unified fabric. A year ago when the unified fabric concept was first pushed on the industry in earnest, I heard from a number of IT server, network, and storage admins that they had no intention of ever running storage and network traffic through a common switch, let alone on a common fabric. This was their visual way to keep the separation: “you do your job, I’ll do mine.” We are now a year later, and the next installments of unified fabric support are now announced with an increased push towards fanning the virtualization wild fire. So has the attitude changed a year later?
I believe the answer is yes and no. There are two opposing forces moving IT organizations to rethink the way they do things. The biggest force being the downturn economy. Tightening budgets mean postponing upgrades, slowing of data center growth, and holding onto what you have. The opposing force to this is that often business slow downs are an opportunity to circle the wagons and seek out improved efficiencies - re-architect that which was hastily deployed just to keep ahead of the rapid growth during good times. Re-thinking IT infrastructure goes beyond technological improvements to include policy and organizational changes. I had a discussion last year with the IT ops manager of a company that was feeling the stress from the downturn. They had a project they had attempted twice to accomplish over a nine month period of time. It failed each time. Their economic situation forced layoffs and an IT organizational restructure. They attempted the project again, with fewer staff and succeeded in less than four weeks. The ops manager indicated that hind-sight was 20x20 in this case. The reason the project had failed the previous two times was because of their larger pre-reduction silo organization. The layoff forced a restructure and broke down the silos and they were now successful.
The tug of war between these two forces: keep what you have to weather the storm versus opportunity to re-architect for a more agile future tend to play out differently organization by organization. Fierce competition that accompanies a downturn economy tends to swing the strong towards preparing for future growth. Then there are the few that had the foresight to implement change for agility during the good times - they are well positioned now.
I bring up the opposing forces of a downturn economy because I’ve seen them weathering a change on IT’s attitude towards many concepts including unified fabrics. The arguments against a unified fabric have historically been grounded in the comfort of status quo and supported by organizational silos. The need for increased IT agility that comes from a dynamic data center coupled with organizational changes has broken down the barriers of status quo. The industry is now more prepared for the move to agile computing.
I’ve noticed a few organizations just starting to warm up to the ideas of a unified fabric. Have they moved there yet? No. The technologies are not mature enough to complete an entire unified fabric infrastructure. Cisco knows this and is positioning the Nexus switch capabilities as a future proofing move. I found it interesting that of the three service provider case studies that Cisco used to promote their new products only one mentioned unified fabric as a future possibility. Rather all focused interest in the product’s increased port density, total bandwidth, and non-stop maintenance.
We’d like to hear your take on unified fabrics. Is it something you are considering for the future? If so, what intrigues you and if not, what are the problems you see?
Cisco is openly wanting to break down the IT silos. Burton Group analyst, Eric Siegel updated his blog with a discussion on this topic and link to Cisco's CTO Padmasree Warrior's blog on this subject. Go check it out.
[Posted by: Richard Jones]