Modern Storage Infrastructures Need Software Defined Networks – Big Switch Briefing Note

Data center modernization creates agility so IT can rapidly respond to the needs of the business. Of the aspects of the data center being modernized, the network infrastructure tends to be the last to change and it inhibits the proliferation of virtualized compute, software defined storage (SDS) and hyperconvergence. In the majority of data centers today, one dominant vendor supplies traditional network switch hardware, and making changes or deploying new workloads to that network is cumbersome and comes at a snail’s pace. True data center agility in the era of virtualization and containers requires software defined networking (SDN).

The Changing Data Center Landscape

Virtualization fundamentally changed how applications were deployed. A new application can have a virtual machine (VM) created for it in minutes and that VM can be moved from server to server within the data center or even in the cloud vs. weeks to order & deliver a new system in the pre-virtualization days. In much the same way the storage landscape is changing, SDS enables IT to add or remove storage systems at will from different vendors and those systems can span across data centers and into the cloud.

The idea behind SDN is much the same as SDS, to allow the management of a variety of vendor switches from a single network management plane instead of the current paradigm of managing each switch individually via a complex CLI that has not changed since the 1990’s. SDN also enables the network to auto configure when a new switch element is added or removed. The result is a more cost-effective, flexible networking infrastructure that is also easier to manage and troubleshoot.

Storage Needs Software Defined Networking

Storage, too, is on a modernization journey – legacy fibre channel architectures are migrating to iSCSI and NFS based storage systems. These systems can be software defined or traditional vendor provide hardware, but IP is clearly becoming a dominant protocol for new deployments. IP-based storage needs lossless transmission, quality of service and data center bridging.

Storage is also being converged into the compute layer. Known as hyperconvergence, these solutions implement SDS as a VM on nodes within the hypervisor cluster and then aggregate the storage resources of that cluster. The network becomes an important factor in the hyperconverged solution’s ability to scale and to deliver consistent performance. SDN simplifies network multicast and delivers automation so that network correctly configures itself as new storage nodes are started or shutdown.

Big Switch Networks

Big Switch Networks was founded in 2010 with roots in the original Stanford research team that invented SDN. The company’s Big Cloud Fabric is a software based, hyper-scale style data center switching fabric. The solution breaks down the network silos creating an API-based programmable networking fabric.

The first SDN step for many organizations is to breakout of the vendor lock-in typical in the network infrastructure. Just as most servers are powered by Intel or Intel compatible chip sets, most switches are powered by Broadcomm ASICs and are built by a handful of companies.

Big Switch software will allow the mix and match of any switch on its hardware compatibility list, giving customers the choice of industry standard switches from EdgeCore (a Taiwanese white box manufacturer who supplies large hyperscalers like Amazon, Facebook and Google), Dell EMC open networking switches, and HPE Altoline switches. The Big Switch controller allows the aggregation of multiple switches from this list and presents it to the administrators as one big logical switch, which is where the company gets its name. Then the networking team can programmatically allocate switch resources as the data center needs them on a per VM or per container basis.

Big Switch and Storage

The Big Switch solution has a significant role to play in storage. For IP-based storage the Big Cloud Fabric seamlessly provides network connectivity to any IP storage array, enabling applications to rapidly access stored data. This seamlessness means an application or even a storage array can be moved, have its physical network connections change without needing to reconfigure all the applications working with it. The result is a lossless, high performance network with fabric wide quality of service for traffic prioritization.

In terms of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) Big Switch improves deployment and operational automation and provides better visibility. A good example is Big Cloud Fabric has specific integration with VMware vSAN and just announced integration support for Nutanix. BCF enables rapid vSAN deployments with automatic configuration of cluster networking and 1-click multicast deployment. BCF’s vSAN-aware deployment tools simplify roll-out and management. The solution also has a dedicated vSAN dashboard that provides real time & historical views of cluster events for rapid troubleshooting.

Finally, Big Switch’s BCF is a natural match for organizations deploying SDS at scale. Both strategies are software based, leverage commodity hardware and create a one logical construct out of disparate parts.

StorageSwiss Take

Traditionally the networking and storage parts of IT were divided by a hard line. As the modern data center becomes increasingly more software defined that line needs to be erased. But the rigid constructs of networking, proprietary switches and switch operating software make that a difficult task. Software defined networking promise to break down these barriers and allow storage and network configurations to flow alongside of compute assignment.

SDN also brings a unique opportunity to drive down the short term cost of data center infrastructure by leveraging white box / britebox switches. It also promises to drive down operational and expansion costs by avoiding the cost of expensive traditional proprietary enterprise class switches.

Big Switch is at the front of this movement and any data center considering a move to IP Storage, hyperconverged architecture or software defined storage should give their Big Cloud Fabric solution very close consideration.

George Crump is the Chief Product Strategist at StorONE. Prior to StorONE, George spent almost 14 years as the founder and lead analyst at Storage Switzerland, which StorONE acquired in March 2020. In his spare time, he continues to write blogs on Storage Switzerland to educate IT professionals on all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought-after public speaker. With over 30 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, SAN, Virtualization, Cloud, and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection.

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Posted in Briefing Note

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