2013 networking industry outlook: Network fabrics can't kill spanning tree

Network fabrics won't kill spanning tree in 2013, says 451 Research's Eric Hanselman. Enterprises will look at Ethernet exchanges and MEMS switches.

Data center networks will continue to wrestle with the limitations of spanning tree protocol in 2013, but enterprises that move to alternatives like network fabrics will find roadblocks to scalability. Meanwhile, enterprises will use Ethernet exchanges to build hybrid cloud environments and cutting edge MEMS-based photonic switches will start to make some noise in the data center.

Erica Hanselman, research director at London-based 451 Research, shares his predictions for how the data center networking industry will shake out in 2013.

Spanning tree: The vampire protocol just won't die

Spanning tree protocol will continue to rob data center networks of bandwidth by shutting down redundant links in 2013.

"If I had one wish for the New Year, it would be to finally, truly put a stake into the heart of spanning tree. But in reality, 2013 is not the year spanning tree is wiped from the face of the planet. There are too many architectures that continue to depend on it," Hanselman said.

Instead, enterprises will increasingly deploy sophisticated data center architectures that try to step around spanning tree, he said. More enterprise and cloud providers will use leaf-spine architectures to boost capacity and scale.

Networking pros will turn out in larger numbers to use data center network fabric products that eliminate spanning tree from vendors like Cisco, Juniper Networks and Brocade, Hanselman added.

"But for those data centers feeling the pinch of scale, it's important to move beyond some of the limitations even [network] fabrics offer. Next year more people are going to hit the scaling limitations that your typical fabric presents. You start to have to deal with the ability to integrate beyond the Layer 3 boundaries that have typically been the stumbling block for most data center architectures," he said.

"Those are the environments in which they will be tempted to look at things like the connectivity management capabilities that OpenFlow might present. The difficulty is the speed with which OpenFlow gains enough maturity for full production."

2013 networking industry: Ethernet exchanges

More enterprises will use Ethernet exchanges to enable hybrid cloud services in 2013, Hanselman said. Enterprises can use these exchanges to peer their data centers to cloud providers, for instance.

"It gives you a reliable, high-capacity interconnect at a reasonable cost," he said. "We've gone through the process of having server huggers, and now we've got database huggers; people who want to be able to secure the core elements of their applications -- the database. They want to keep [the database] on-premises so they can pat it on the head at night when they go home. But they want to leverage the capabilities of a cloudy front end. To be able to do that with scale and work practically, you have to have an interconnection that works reliably and gives you the kind of capacity and performance that you need."

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Ethernet Exchanges, which service providers have traditionally used to peer their networks, can give enterprises those reliable interconnects.

"Right now you've got the Fortune 50 that have really started to utilize those capabilities, but you've got a lot of the multi-tenant data center providers out there that are really trying to open doors to leverage this kind of service," he said.

Networking in 2013: MEMS mirror technology will sneak onto your data center radar

For those of you who are looking for unicorns in 2013, photonic connection management and Micro-ElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) technology will emerge as a new way to dynamically allocate network capacity in a data center, Hanselman said. MEMS technology uses sophisticated mirror arrays that reposition themselves to deflect and change optical paths in a network circuit. A small group of vendors are starting to offer MEMS-based photonic switches for data center applications.

"These are things that are traditionally at a price point where they only worked with undersea cables," Hanselman said. "It allows for dynamic shifts in traffic. Mirror positioning times are still not at the packet-switching level, but still down below any sort of provisioning time you would ever look at. They're talking about milliseconds worth of switching time to move an entire optical path at however many lambdas you want. It's just simple low-level photons coming in here and putting them over there. If you incorporate a reasonable management system -- that really starts to provide some interesting things."

MEMS photonic switching can create different photonic paths to allocate large amounts of network capacity quickly, and to create multi-tenant networks in a cloud data center, for instance, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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