Guide

VAR guide: Unified fabric services

By Elaine J. Hom, Associate Editor

Unified data center fabric combines traditional LAN and storage area network (SAN) traffic on the same physical network, improving the efficiency of data flow and access while making the architecture less complex. Unified fabric is a way of managing multiple switches and components as one, making all traffic move in a converged manner. This method of network convergence is a good solution for enterprises with cluttered network architectures in which storage is running separately from the network.

Networking solution providers that plan to offer network convergence services must first be able to fully understand the benefits to their customers. For example, a reduced cable count means less hardware and an easier time managing server racks. If you are managing your customer's networks full time, you'll find it easier to manage a nework based on a unified fabric, and your customer will save money in the long run. If your contract only includes setting up the unified fabric, your customer will be grateful for the ease of management on his or her end. In either case, you will have earned that "trusted adviser" status.

But for networking solution providers, the big challenge in selling and implementing unified fabric is grappling with storage protocols and architecture. A poor understanding of storage networking could doom your unified data center fabric strategy.

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In order for SAN traffic to run on the same physical network as the traditional LAN, the storage protocol must be altered to run on Ethernet. Networking solution providers can do this using data center bridging (DCB), or converged enhanced Ethernet (CEE), a collection of Ethernet extensions designed to improve Ethernet networking. DCB allows traffic differentiation, lossless fabric (required for SAN traffic), optimal bridging and configuration management. Networking solution providers that plan to offer unified data center fabric services must become DCB experts and familiarize themselves with IEEE 802.1's enhancements to Ethernet.

Networking solution providers must also learn to custom tailor unified data center fabric solutions to each customer. Many questions need to be asked and answered before beginning any kind of unified fabric deployment. Should your customer's network use Fibre Channel? If so, which route of DCB and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) implementation should your customer's network use? How do we choose the right adapters for the network?

Use this unified data center fabric primer to answer these questions about FCoE and DCB and to get a deeper understanding of unified data center fabric.

With the right amount of storage networking (and data center) know-how, any networking solution provider could add unified fabric and other network convergence services to its business offerings -- lucrative for you, and cost-efficient for your customers.

This was first published in July 2010

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