The following document is a summary from a series entitled "On The Horizon: The Future of Enterprise IT" produced by ON Magazine, sponsored by EMC Corporation.
Written by David Vellante with Jeff Springborn and Chris Kudlick
This is Part two in a series of three.
- See Part one: Technology Convergence: Transforming data center infrastructure.
- See Part three The Business Impact of Convergence
The historical convergence of voice and data networks is a proxy for how infrastructure supporting storage and network traffic will converge in the next decade. A key philosophy of converging voice and data was to make a single IP-based network the core of prioritizing and delivering different services while maintaining quality-of-service (QoS) for the business.
The convergence of LAN and SAN traffic onto a single network is being driven by the confluence of technology, cost cutting imperatives, and organizational realities, forcing companies to simplify infrastructure and become more responsive to the business. The core technology underpinning of LAN/SAN convergence in the next decade is high-speed Ethernet, specifically 10 Gigabit Ethernet.
This was the conclusion from a discussion with two business technology professionals, Jeff Springborn, President and COO of LightEdge Solutions, a service provider based in Des Moines IA, and Christopher Kudlick, a Senior Network Engineer of Morris James, LLP, a mid-sized law firm based in Wilmington, DE.
These two firms, however, bring completely different perspectives to solving the challenges related to simplifying IT. LightEdge is a cloud service provider with roots in voice/data networks and providing business services over IP to small- and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). The company has extended its services to offer Fortune 100-class infrastructure to SMBs through sets of managed services available as a cloud-based offering.
Morris James, on the other hand is a law firm with an IT organization that serves 50 lawyers. Despite the advantages of cloud computing, the firm has chosen to maintain in-house IT staff and infrastructure to absolutely ensure control over IT. Critical to Morris James' thinking is the deep integration of IT into the business of law and the ability to rapidly respond in virtually any manner required to meet the intense demands of its lawyers, including 100% accountability for the security and privacy of its data.
The Road to Convergence
Despite the differing perspectives of these two organizations, they find substantial common ground in network convergence. Specifically, the following key points emerged from this Webcast:
- Ethernet technology generally and specifically 10-Gigabit Ethernet will provide the underpinning for converging LAN and SAN traffic.
- The lossless capability of Enhanced Ethernet will eventually allow storage traffic to run over Ethernet without losing data, setting the stage for convergence.
- Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) is a critical technology that will allow IT practitioners to preserve investments in FC infrastructure while at the same time exploiting advances in Ethernet.
- The transition to a converged LAN/SAN network in the data center will take five or more years to evolve, starting with converged network adapters (CNA’s) within servers and moving to top-of-rack switches, eventually into core switches and finally to native target devices (e.g. storage systems).
- The benefits of this strategy will be to dramatically reduce the number of connections required to support LAN and SAN traffic, including reduced cabling and simplified management. In theory, the number of total network connections, over time, may be halved.
Considerations for CIO’s
Converging LAN and SAN traffic onto a single network pipe using 10-Gigabit Ethernet and FCoE will combine the flexibility of Ethernet with the reliability and availability of FC SANs. There are several reasons convergence matters to CIO’s, and executives need to factor three primary considerations regarding converged LAN/SAN traffic, including:
- An initial transition period will limit ROI and the speed of payback.
- Alternative convergence models will be proposed within organizations, including avoiding FCoE altogether.
- CIO’s must proactively address inevitable organizational issues that will arise from the fact that in many organizations today, storage and network professionals report to different bosses.
While the financial impact of convergence will be significant, it will take several years for IT organizations to reach the point where payback is immediate. Like many ‘network effect’ evolutions, value will accrue more rapidly as a greater percentage of network infrastructure is converged. Initially, over an 18-month period, organizations should pilot converged networks to gain experience. In years 3-5, as 10 GigE is adopted and more servers and switches are converged, cabling will be cut dramatically and management simplified, leading to a nearly instantaneous ROI.
CIOs in smaller organizations should expect to see staff members challenge the merits of introducing another protocol (i.e. FCoE) to the mix. This line of thinking has merit; however firms really only have three choices: 1) Stick with FC and eventually endure higher costs than other firms; 2) Trade a near-term penalty for long-term gain by converging LAN/SAN traffic aggressively using 10 GigE and FCoE or 3) Converge LAN/SAN traffic by aggressively driving IP-friendly technologies including iSCSI, NFS and CIFS.
Finally, networking and storage professionals often report to different direct managers with diverged agendas (e.g. networking professionals require flexibility, storage professionals focus on data assurance). Because the underpinning of convergence is Ethernet, networking professionals will probably be put in charge within many organizations. However, the task of ensuring data integrity will remain with storage professionals, who will be tasked with maintaining reliability and recoverability of data.
Action Item: LAN/SAN convergence is coming to a network near you and promises to simplify infrastructure and improve manageability while maintaining QoS. However the transition to a converged network will take many years and bring near-term complexities, as new technologies such as 10 Gig E and FCoE are introduced. CIOs should assess strategic alternatives to converge network architectures and create organizations that recognize that two different skill sets are coming together; namely keeping the Ethernet network responsive and maintaining storage network data integrity.