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Next-generation data centers aim for virtualized everything

Talk of data center consolidation dominated Interop Tuesday, with execs touting virtualization of the entire network and massive server consolidation.

Next-generation data centers will take virtualization far beyond servers in a bid to expedite application delivery, industry execs said at Interop this week.

Talk of data center consolidation and the shift from virtualization at the server to implementing it throughout the network for accelerated application delivery were threads running through several Interop keynotes and conference sessions. And, as consolidation takes hold, the greening of the data center also plays a major role in the conversation.

These trends will affect networking service providers, data center specialists and systems integrators going forward, as companies explore ways to get more bang for their IT buck.

Touting Cisco's Data Center 3.0 strategy during an Interop keynote speech, Jayshree Ullal, Cisco's senior vice president of data center, switching and services, said infrastructure must seamlessly and "horizontally" connect the storage networks and the data center to the rest of the network in an effort to deliver converged voice, video and data -- as well as interactive and collaborative Web 2.0 applications.

"We are moving from transaction to interaction," she said.

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As a result, applications can no longer be siloed on the network, but will work within and be spread throughout, she said. The network will act as a computing system as well as a connection between all of the necessary components, she said.

Earlier this month, Cisco unveiled its Data Center 3.0 vision, which included a line of Fibre Channel over Ethernet switches. That same week, the company announced an open source integrated services router (ISR), which will enable third-party developers to create applications placed in the network.

In this shift, providing "fat" 10 Gigabit pipes is only part of the battle, she said. Moving toward interactive applications and converged services will mean the ability to ensure latency across the network and optimize bandwidth.

"You have to be able to look into the data center and see the packets and manipulate the packets," she said. She noted as an example the extreme proliferation of video on the network -- ranging from high-density telepresence to less resource-hungry desktop video. It's clear that bandwidth must be prioritized for the more intensive applications.

She characterized Cisco's latest approach as a "happy blend" of its original centralized data center strategy and the later iteration of the completely decentralized approach. Data Center 3.0, she said, keeps the data decentralized, but centralizes the management of resources.

In an earlier Interop session, Ahmed Abdelhalim, director of product management and marketing at Foundry Networks, said the proliferation of 10 Gigabit Ethernet over the next five years will enable a migration to the new data center and better delivery of applications.

He also predicted a complete move to virtualization at the server, as well as the router, the storage network, the switches -- basically throughout all network components. In that process, he said, new issues will arise, including how to ensure security and compliance.

"How do you consolidate infrastructure, while achieving security in services?" he asked.

IBM systems architect Darin Briskman took the idea of consolidation and virtualization to another level.

"Supercomputing is what you'll see in the data center," he said. Now most IT staffs have about one administrator for every 20 systems. Virtualization and consolidation will take that ratio to one for every 1,000 systems, he said. Eventually that number will grow more. At the top end now, he said, you can fit 1,024 processors into one rack. Eventually you are going to see 100,000 nodes for one administrator, he said.

That projection falls in line with IBM's worldview, that big iron mainframes and supercomputer-class machines (which it builds) will continue to be hugely important.

In the same discussion, Hewlett-Packard marketing manager Stelio D'alo, like Ullal, stressed automation and the ability to "see what's going on and manage it" in the network.

D'Alo and other panelists looked at "greening" the data center with consolidation as a cost-saving measure first and foremost, not an ecological measure. Panelists said the economic downturn will force CIOs to give in to change and try a new scenario if only to lower the IT headcount and save energy costs.

As customers grapple with flattened IT budgets, this is the "textbook scenario for automation," he said.

"If you want a green data center, you have to turn everything off," joked Dick Sullivan, director of enterprise solutions marketing at EMC. "That's not likely to happen."

Sullivan, showing EMC's roots, stressed a needed change in storage technology and space usage. He preached less Fibre Channel and more flash drives and solid state disks as EMC's take on storage. (EMC is trying to buy flash drive pioneer Iomega, on Monday launching a tender offer of $3.85 per share for Iomega stock. The offer is set to expire on May 21.)

Interop product news

Moving from theoretical to specific, product news at the show tapped the same data center consolidation themes.

Yesterday, Broadcom Corp. released a line of Gigabit Ethernet switches for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) meant to support converged services and consume less power. OnPATH Technologies said it will use Intel 10 Gigabit adapters to drive 10 Gigabit traffic through Fibre Channel. The company is showing the technology on the show floor all week.

A host of companies offered green testing and measurement tools for the data center. Ixia released the IxGreen, which measures the amount of power required to run components in the data center at various performance levels. Miercom, a network product test center, announced a "Certified Green" testing program. The program will test products in an effort to challenge networking equipment suppliers to design power-efficient network infrastructure. Cisco switches are the first to receive the certification.

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