Avaya data center fabric supports collaborative apps

The Avaya data center strategy aims to support collaboration and UC in the campus and branch networks—or at least that's what execs will try to prove at Interop Las Vegas 2011.

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Steve Bandrowczak, Vice President of Avaya Data Solutions

The takeaway: The Avaya data center strategy is live, and executives will use Interop Las Vegas 2011 as the platform to explain the link between implementing a data center fabric with a distributed core, and delivering collaborative applications in a mobile environment.

Let's face it: Avaya has a lot to prove when it comes to data center networking. When the company acquired Nortel's enterprise data portfolio in 2009, industry pundits questioned not only how a VoIP player would integrate data networking technology, but also how Avaya would make the sales case. After all, just how does one sell unified communications and data center networking?

Avaya's answer is that it takes a flat Layer 2 data center network with a distributed core and virtualization to properly implement collaborative applications in a mobile environment. Former Nortel CIO Steve Bandrowczak, now vice president of Avaya Data Solutions, will use his slot as Interop keynote speaker this week to make that case.

Bandrowczak will outline Avaya's Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) and discuss how a data center network fabric with a distributed core is key to extending collaboration, call center and other UC apps to campus networks and branch offices. Bandrowczak sat down with SearchNetworking.com before Interop to discuss this strategy.

What trends will define Interop this year?

Bandrowczak: I think it's three major things. First is commoditization of the end devices: iPhones, iPads and Droids. It's about a variation of devices that the enterprise has to do deal with.

You then add on top of that different communication channels. We now have to deal with not just voice, but video with Twitter, Facebook, Skype and instant messaging. So the second major trend is, with all of these communications channels, how do you put enough around them so you can manage and secure [access]?

Then the third thing is what we call virtualization of the network. For years we've been virtualizing servers, and we've been trying to get more out of our server using VMware and a variety of other technologies. The next major trend is the virtualization of the enterprise network in order to deal with the first two things—commoditization of the end devices [and the applications they access]. So how do you design, develop and roll out a network that allows you to virtualize and deal with the diversity that we're seeing with our end users?

How exactly does network virtualization play into handling these devices and their applications? 

Bandrowczak: If you think about the traditional ways in which the enterprise has provided service, typically it’s out of a single data center, and today we just don't have that luxury. We want to be able to provide it out of multiple data centers and you want to extend that service to the campus. The idea is to provide service anywhere in the enterprise and be able to easily turn it up.

We're looking to reduce network complexity. So we are taking away all these spanning trees and complex routing and specifically driving Layer 2 simplification. That allows us to be able to deal with when an end device hits our network. We want to be able to identify and secure it, and provide the service to that end device as easily and as fast as we can without making tremendous complex routes within the network.

Is that where VENA comes in?

Bandrowczak: Yes, that's where VENA comes in, and it's where Juniper has been following us. Now Cisco is trying to follow us in simplifying and virtualizing the network.

Can you explain the VENA architecture?

Bandrowczak: First of all, Shortest Path Bridging with a Layer 2 extension is really the heart of what we do. If you remember, Nortel came from the carrier space, and we were providing that level of technology inside the carriers for many years, trying to help the carriers extend Layer 2. We brought that over to Avaya, and now we're doing that as part of our enterprise offering.

The second thing is we are able to create a service ID on every service that we turn up inside the network. If you think about putting in a fabric where you configure your core and you simply turn up a service (such as streaming video or unified communications) at the edge of the core, and your core knows how to handle that, that's essentially what we're doing.

We're now extending that to the campus, and you will see later this year we will extend it out to the branch.

What does it mean to extend data center network fabric to the branch?

Bandrowczak: If you've got a data center today and you are running an ERP system or a CRM system, you have to put that system inside the core data center, and then configure the network to provide that service to the end user whether they're at a branch, at a campus or at home via VPN.

I've got a lot of customers today that are running big call centers and they can't extend that capability outside of the call center. You have to physically be in there to take advantage of the technology. What Avaya is saying with VENA is leave the call center technology where it is and extend that application or service from your campus to the balance of the enterprise.

Also, let's say I have a really good video application in a branch, and I want to extend that service outside of the branch. I don't have to centralize that inside the data center to then be able to position that to the enterprise. I can leave it right inside the branch.

How specifically does the data center network fabric support that?

Bandrowczak: Think about four boxes inside the data center—a core. I now have the ability to extend that core to the campus. So I've got a physical campus box that is part of my core data center cluster—or fabric.

Will that require users to buy new switches?

Bandrowczak: They will use the same core switches with an operating system upgrade. We've got some customers that just run our old Nortel data products, and we've now given them the ability to upgrade from the 8600 to the 8800, which is basically the same box with a different engine. We try to help our customers preserve the investment they've made and extend the existing assets to get to a VENA platform.

There is a server side of this data center network equation that Cisco and others have addressed. What's Avaya's answer?

Bandrowczak: We clearly are not going to be in [the server] business. We're going to focus on the network as a fabric, and then we're going to partner with the QLogics of the world. You'll see an announcement at Interop for a partnership with a company called Coraid for storage technology. We also work extremely well with Dell and HP. We will continue to create top-of-rack solutions, the best fabric and on- path for those servers.

How do you address storage convergence and how your competitors enable FCoE?

Bandrowczak: Many customers have thousands of servers and storage devices connected over Ethernet, and they have a big infrastructure that they are not about to throw away any time soon. We think the trend will be toward storage over Ethernet. We will flatten out the network and lower the cost as we move toward Shortest Path Bridging and Ethernet technology for storage arrays. We believe there will be a hybrid of Fibre over Ethernet for some time to come. [To support that,] we partner with QLogic [which provides adapters that enable Fibre Channel traffic to run over Ethernet by conversion at the port] and they do that extremely well.

You've often mentioned wireless manageability as part of Avaya's strength. What's the strategy there?

Bandrowczak: We realized you have to converge your [wired and wireless] management tools and converge various phones and video devices, and you've got to be able to tie that into your physical wireless and security infrastructure.

Customers want a single management platform to handle wired and wireless end devices, and then feed that back into whatever management software you are using in your data center. We are well positioned to do that. We continue to expand our integrated management console on the Nortel side. We have a complete set of management tools for video and desktop, and all of our UC, CC (contact center) engines for wired and wireless. We have a single management platform for policy and security management, identification of faults and tolerance. We are not fully integrated yet, but getting closer every day.

To learn more about Interop, view our 2011 Interop Las Vegas conference page.

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