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Network technology trends 2012: Data center networks

When it comes to data center networking technology trends 2012, expect the rise of data center fabrics, but not necessarily uptake of storage convergence or the public cloud.

For at least two years, analysts have predicted the rise of fabric-based, flat network architectures. But in 2012, it's likely this talk will turn into actual product implementation, says ZK Research principal analyst Zeus Kerravala.

Yet while fabrics will finally take hold, other hyped up data center network technologies, such as storage convergence using Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), may fizzle. Here's what Kerravala sees in data center network technology trends of 2012.

Data center network fabric: From talk to reality 

Since 2011 was “the year of the fabric announcement,” it's likely that 2012 will be the year of implementation, said Kerravala. As this happens, expect to see the battle of the data center network bridging protocol.

Cisco and Brocade support Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL) as a protocol, while Avaya and Alcatel support shortest path bridging, and Juniper Networks is going proprietary. What could be different is that none of these protocols is a sure winner -- and that changes the competitive environment for Cisco.

“There is no de facto standard, and that opens the door for competition,” said Kerravala. “This may be the time for non-Cisco competitors to gain share.”

Companies with interesting technology or a unique strategy, such as Arista or Enterasys, could make real headway, Kerravala said. In 2012, we'll see if these companies have “more than just a fast box” and whether they have the market strategy necessary to carry their technology.

Storage convergence: Still a non-event

For at least 24 months, we've heard that FCoE for storage convergence has arrived, yet Kerravala warns that a few things must change before that will become reality.

Back in the days during the “token ring vs. Ethernet wars,” it was hard to tell which would win … until Ethernet brought 100 MB and killed the competition with performance. The same will need to happen for FCoE, Kerravala said.

“When 40 and 100 gig become commercially available and cheaper, it will drive us toward FCoE. Until then, it'll flop,” said Kerravala.

Going to the cloud … privately

The cloud is a popular term, but most organizations are still too fearful to move their mission-critical applications to a public cloud, said Kerravala. Yet that won't stop them from building out private clouds in 2012.

“Where I have seen deployments has been in internal cloud for resource efficiency purposes,” said Kerravala. “We are at least a year away from blotter use of public cloud sevices. There are still too many security and visibility issues.”

In 2012, network management will mean automation

In 2012 we will see the return of real network management, according to Kerravala. That means tools will go way past performance and fault management and into network automation of data center tasks, he said. Ultimately, engineers will aim for automation of virtual resource provisioning and migration, as well as change and configuration management. 

These days when the term “automation” comes up, the conversation often turns toward software-defined networking (SDN) and decoupled control planes. Kerravala agrees that software-defined networking will change the automated network, but he warns that might not entail the use of OpenFlow, the ever-hyped SDN technology.

“OpenFlow has industry buzz, but it’s one of those technologies that people don't know what to do with,” he said.

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