Enterprises converge networks to maximize IT assets

Users say they carefully evaluate pros, cons and future application growth

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GRAPEVINE, Texas -- For many of the IT professionals attending Storage Networking World here, combining communications, server and storage networks is an appealing prospect. Some companies are already in the middle of converging on an IP network, and others see it in their future.

Still, there were a large percentage of users who said that they plan to stay with a three-tiered network architecture.

In a poll conducted via wireless devices, an audience of several hundred SNW attendees turned out to be split on the issue. Twenty-six percent indicated that they plan to move to converged networks that use the Fibre Channel over Ethernet protocol on their IP network, 13% said that they're going to an all-IP network made up of NAS and iSCSI storage protocols as well as public cloud-based storage, and 25% reported that they plan to keep their network infrastructure as is for the foreseeable future. However, 33% of the respondents said that they are "still sorting out the hype" and trying to determine the cost of recabling. SNW is sponsored by Computerworld.

Omer Siddiqui, deputy CIO of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority, which serves 150,000 customers in the Washington area, said his agency is in the midst of deploying a "flat network" (a consolidated Ethernet network) because it needed to reduce complexity.

"It was a wake-up call when one time we had to implement a simple fix or patch for our networks and it brought everything to its knees," he said. "We came to the realization that we had a very complex set of switches and routers."

Siddiqui said organizations should perform annual assessments of their networks to determine how many bottlenecks they have and where they are. That way, they can identify areas that need improvement or even decide whether they need a complete overhaul.

"We went through the evaluation. There are networks out there that have too many moving parts, and manageability becomes a nightmare," he said.

As DC Water and Sewer builds its network of the future, it is keeping in mind the need for scalability and the need to minimize I/O latency. Among other things, the agency needs a network that can be used to quickly deploy new organizational network policies, Siddiqui said. "All these factors contributed to making our decision," he explained.

The agency has completed the design of its network and is now in the implementation phase. As it implements a single IP network to handle all of its data, it is also expanding the reach of its network from five offices to nearly 200 mobile trucks. As a result, the network will now extend beyond the agency's firewall for the first time, so security is a big concern.

"How do we secure them, ensure we're scalable and, most important, make sure it's successful?" Siddiqui said, adding that a single management interface will help to ensure that policy-based security methods are met.

Siddiqui said his agency has about 1,500 servers that run through two primary data centers. The two data centers are running off 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series Supervisor Engine 720 switches. Siddiqui was able to consolidate his network from 35 edge switches down to about 20 with the new core switches.

Rob Davis, chief technology officer at switch maker QLogic, said 80% of all enterprises still have Gigabyte Ethernet networks and would need to upgrade to 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet to handle converged data traffic.

"I think it's a trend that's been emerging over the last six to nine months. There are some networking companies -- not so much Cisco, but Juniper -- that have really been beating the drum on this," he said. "I think virtualization is a big factor. I think it's a trend that's going to be happening over the next two to five years."

Siddiqui said organizations should consider moving to a converged network if they foresee many new enterprise-level and mobile applications in their future. "The bottom line is cost, manageability ... and scalability," he said. "You're talking about spending a couple of million bucks."

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