The road to virtualizing large data centres is partially blocked by the hunt for technologies that allow Layer 2 Ethernet switches to scale enough to allow large numbers virtual machines to traverse networks.
On Wednesday three major network equipment manufacturers said they recently successfully concluded a large-scale interoperability test in Ottawa of one of the technologies, the IEEE 802.1aq protocol called Shortest Path Bridging (SPB), which they say will allow enterprises and telecom carriers to greatly simplify how they create and configure large virtual networks.
Manufacturers Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya Inc. and Huawei Technologies used the help of Ottawa’s Spirent Communications and Solana Networks to simulate a network of almost 200 modes and more than 400 links to pass traffic between their gear.
The test, the third in Ottawa, sets up SPB to be a legitimate challenger to proprietary network fabric solutions offered by Cisco Systems Inc., Brocade Communications Systems and Juniper Networks, said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise research at Yankee Group.
“One of the questions I’ve heard from end users about fabrics is are these things really interoperable, or do I have to bank on a single-vendor solution?” he said.
Cisco can offer a proprietary solution called FabricPath, based on a protocol called Transparent Interconnect of Lots of Links (TRILL) because a number of enteprises have all-Cisco networks, he said. So equipment makers who go for an open standards solution like SPB have to assure customers through interoperability testing that they won’t get stuck if they buy other gear.
“In a market where everyone is trying to solve the problem of getting virtual machines to run better on the network, I think interoperability testing at least brings in the viability of building a multi-vendor network,” Kerravala said.
“A lot of buyers were very sceptical you wouldn’t be able to do it for a year.”
“The jury is still out for a lot of customers on what the best fabric solution, or next-generation data network, is going to look like,” he acknowledged. “So this (latest test) is a milestone for the vendors that support Shortest Path Bridging as an alternative to (Ethernet’s) Spanning Tree and TRILL.”
SPB, he added, is further along the standards certification route than TRILL, which is why Cisco [Nasdaq: CSCO] and Brocade [Nasdaq: BRCD] have added extensions to the native TRILL protocol. Juniper [NYSE: JNPR] has its own solution called QFabric.
Andre Kindness, enterprise networking analyst at Forrester Reserach, was pleased backers of SPB are emerging because so many recent fabric announcements have been from vendors with proprietary solutions. It also shows how far SPB has advanced, he said. "Other vendors have been banging the drum about TRILL and these ones got together and did something."
He was also struck that Huawei, usually known as a carrier equipment supplier, is preparing to enter the North American enterprise network equipment space.
Peter Ashwood-Smith, a research fellow at Huawei’s Ottawa lab, said in an interview that the latest test, conducted earlier this summer, used the fourth draft of the SPB specification. The final specification is expected to be approved by the IEEE by the end of this year or early next year, he said.