Force 10 offers roadmap to virtualized network

With virtualization swallowing up desktops, servers, applications and storage, the network is pretty well the only thing left. However, assembling an intelligent network fabric will be necessary first to give managers the ability to shift network assets on the fly.

Force 10 Networks, which builds core and access switches, believes it has a path with its new Virtualization Framework, a set of capabilities in the latest release of its Force 10 Operating System (FTOS).

FTSO v.7.81 has three tools which the company says make virtualized environments easier to manage and, with the addition of software from an orchestration partner, take advantage of standards-based data centre automation technology.

A virtualized – and not static – network is a revolutionary idea, says Steve Garrison, Force 10’s vice-president of marketing. But the framework the company is offering is “evolutionary in the sense that we’re not asking people to change their culture to adapt to these things.”

The three tools that Garrison says will enable a virtual network are:

-VirtualScale, which allows network managers to stack switches or routers together so they look like one. It gets around spanning tree protocols and scaling issues, he said. Initially, VirtualScale will apply only to stackable devices, but in the future – Garrison didn’t say when – it could be used for chassis switches;

-VirtualControl, which can partition physical network assets to virtualize logical boundaries. Akin to VMware for a server, it allows one switch or router to act as many using several technologies, including VRFs (virtual private network routing/forwarding instance) at the core/aggregation layer and VLANs at the access layer. Essentially, Garrison said, VirtualControl carves up a routing table, allowing a manger to designate specific routers for specific applications;

-VirtualView, which uses sFlow to gather network statistics to help automate responses. To take advantage of VirtualView, however, managers have to add a visualization application such as Plixer International’s Scruitinizer or InMON’s sFlow Trend. Force 10 has partnerships with both companies, which offer trial versions of their applications.

The orchestration end of the Force 10 vision is provided by software from another partner, Cassatt Corp., whose Active Response Data Centre Edition pools data centre resources and hooks into VirtualView via SNMP. Garrison said Cisco Systems’ VFrame offers a similar network orchestration capabilities. However, the Force 10 approach uses standards-based technology, he said.

He also added that there are still components or capabilities that need to be added to the framework before a fully virtualized network can be realized.

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise research at the Yankee Group, said the vision of storage, server and network fabric coming together is one that will come into being.

Other networking vendors are likely working on a similar approach to Force 10 and Cisco, he said. In fact, he added, that’s one reason why Foundry Networks bought Brocade last year.

However, he added, manufacturers who don’t have a wide range of data centre knowledge and products – he cited Juniper Networks and Extreme Networks – will find it hard to come up with solutions. Force 10’s announcement gives it a temporary leg up on competitors, he agreed.

There are many things that still haven’t converged in the data centre, Kerravala observed, and it remains a difficult environment to manage. “If we are going to move to a virtualized data centre where we can move workloads at will, there’s got to be better interoperability between the layers.”

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