Ali Ahmar (Middle East) - "Ethernet Fabric" - A Network Architecture for the Virtualized Data Centers

With virtualization changing the way we consume information, Ali Ahman, a multi-regional sales manager for Brocade, discusses the possibility of 'Ethernet Fabric'.

The way we consume information has changed... forever.  The proliferation of smart devices and remote access points means that users demand access to information anytime and from anywhere.   Ensuring that these demands are met places a huge burden on the data centre and, in turn, IT managers.  How does one deploy and maintain a network that has to be ubiquitous?  How does one assure 24/7 availability while addressing the commercial needs of the business in terms of managing costs?  Modern IT managers sometimes feel like they have to work miracles, but they need not despair. 

As organizations look to reap the benefits of cloud architectures, attention is being placed on data centre design.  Traditional data centre designs are not optimized for the cloud; they are inherently complicated and do not offer the agility, flexibility or scalability demanded by the cloud.  In addition, server sprawl increases management complexity and security risks, while placing pressure on operational expenditure.  As IT managers seek to embrace the cloud, traditional architectures appear to be limiting their aspirations. Virtualization makes it possible to address many of the challenges faced in the modern data centre.  It supports new user demands because it delivers the flexibility to adapt to load fluctuations, thanks in large part to the mobility offered by virtual machines (VMs) which can be created and moved around (within the same VLAN) as needed, while inherently increasing security and reducing cost.  In short, the virtual data centre is a cloud-optimized data centre.

However, such approaches are useless if the network itself cannot easily incorporate such changes. The classical three-tier data centre networking model does not offer the agility or flexibility needed for organization's to successfully start the journey to the cloud.  Even with a successfully executed virtualization strategy in place, the structure of three-tier networks are rigid and complex, governed by the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) which is limited in terms of its dynamism.  For example, if a link is broken, STP is slow to develop a new link (between 30 and 60 seconds - convergence time) and during that time, traffic comes to a standstill. With today's businesses demanding ‘always on' availability, the traditional three-tier model presents a challenge when looking to migrate to the cloud.

However, there has been fundamental architectural shift in data center network architectures from hierarchical, multi-tier networks to flat, faster and simpler-to-manage fabric-based ones - Ethernet fabrics.  Broadly speaking, Ethernet fabrics represent a move away from a hierarchical, and thus unwieldy, architecture, toward a flatter, more flexible design.  For example:


  • Key features like logical chassis, distributed intelligence and automated port profile migration make Ethernet fabrics more attuned to operate in a highly virtualized data centers to support techniques such as VM mobility within a fabric and across data centers
  • Ethernet fabrics simplify network design and management to address the growing complexity in IT and data centers today
  • They deliver the enabling technology for convergence of storage and data networks if customers choose to migrate to this architecture


For the company, the benefits of this technology are two-fold: technical and commercial. By enabling the virtual data center and providing a platform for cloud migration, Ethernet fabrics ensure ‘always-on' availability and simplify network management, which in turn increases end-user productivity while reducing operational costs.

So as far as the data center is concerned, if virtualization revolutionized computing, Ethernet fabrics are revolutionizing networking. In time, like the evolution of the Walkman to the iPod and VCR to Blu-Ray, Ethernet designs will evolve into Ethernet fabrics..  Ethernet fabrics represent the next step in the evolution of Ethernet solutions, are purpose-built for the new virtualized, cloud-optimized data centers...  for the world of 2011 and beyond!

Ali Ahmar is the Regional Sales Manager of Middle East, North Africa & Pakistan for Brocade. Ahmar is based at Brocade's regional headquarters in Dubai, UAE and has overall sales & operations responsibility for the region. Ahmar holds a Bachelor degree in Computer & Communications Engineering from the American University of Beirut and is one of the top contributors in Brocade.