Six months after acquiring Force 10 Networks, the company discusses how its Virtual Network Architecture will increase the competition with Cisco and place a new emphasis on “workload-aware” networking

Dell’s Force 10 VNA plan: Become a ‘network VMware’

SILICON VALLEY, Calif. — Arpit Joshipura stands at a whiteboard, sketching out the locations of Cisco, Alcatel, Juniper, Brocade and many of the other well-known networking vendors that occupy the area right around this office, where Dell has brought together the team it gained through the acquisition of Force 10 Networks about six months ago.

“About 90 per cent of all the world’s key networking talent is in here,” he said, pointing to a square he’s just drawn. “So if anything goes wrong with the Internet today . . .”

It’s important for Joshipura, former CMO at Force 10, that others see Dell as a key player in that small quadrant of networking industry players. Along with the launch of its PowerEdge 12G Server earlier this week, the company is offering the first glimpse of how it plans to make use of Force 10’s technologies and talent. The key announcement centered around what Dell is calling its Virtual Network Architecture (VNA), an end-to-end 10G Ethernet blueprint, including 10G top-of-rack and 10G/40G Ethernet distributed core fabric that is designed for virtualizing, automating and orchestrating network services. This would include data centres, campus and branch environments.

“What VMware did for servers? That’s what we’re going to do for the network,” Joshipura told a group of media and analysts who were part of the company’s spring enterprise product announcement event in San Francisco. “The network is no longer about boxes, about speeds and feeds. It’s about a pool of resources that are virtualized, available on demand, scaled to the requirements of a workload and fully automated.”

Where there are already a number of players in the fabric and software-defined network (SDN) architecture space today, Joshipura said Dell believes it can set itself apart by engineering a more “workload-aware” network that would reduce the amount of time IT staff spend reconfiguring systems as business needs change.

There may be different requirements, for example, for contiuous workloads like business intelligence and streaming video compared to newer workloads like using Hadoop to manage big data or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) needs. “If the infrastructure is cpabale of understanding the business and workload, you get a more optimized solution,” Joshipura said.

In server virtualization, network admins spend lots of effort configuring ports and servers when a virtual machine (VM) changes. However Dell has introduced virtual machine to VLAN mobility, which Joshipura said will cuts down data centre deployment times from three days to three hours. “If you’re a startup or Web 2.0 firm that used a public cloud and grows the business there, and then for whatever reason starts to build its own data centres, you need to grow fast,” he said. “Automation really helps here.”

Dell hasn’t gotten into specifics on the underlying technologies that will flesh out VNA yet, but Joshipura showed a slide that saw Layer 2 and Layer 3 switches sitting on top of fabric products from Force 10 and network services that Dell would supply through its vendor partners.

While VNA will place Dell in more direct competition with Cisco, Joshipura acknowledged that the majority of deployments still involve Cisco products. That means Dell/Force 10 will need to make sure its products interoperate seamlessly. “It’s not like we’re going to say, ‘We’re better, we’re different, so throw Cisco out,’” he said. “You can’t start fresh. There’s an installed base.” In fact, network admins should require no new training to make Dell VNA to work within a Cisco environment, he added.

Although Dell may be somewhat new to this space, Joshipura pointed out that Force 10’s technology is based upon more than 20 million lines of code developed over a decade. That can’t easily be replicated, he said. 
“There’s a reason people don’t jump into networking.
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