May 29, 2013

Sharpening the Business Edge of the Network

Businesses losing the edge

The edge is the business end of the network, where services are delivered to end users and devices. Traditionally the enterprise edge was designed mostly to allow devices to connect to the network, provide authentication and power devices via PoE. Launching a new service required the addition of a new overlay tailored to the specific service’s definition, built using technologies available at the time.

For the beleaguered network administrator, it would mean running and managing different services on different networking equipment and protocols – for instance, unified communications would need to be run on its own network infrastructure, while video delivery networks would need to be run on another. Today, this approach has resulted in the proliferation of network silos, each anchored by dedicated edge equipment running proprietary OS. IT departments end up with a complex, difficult-to-manage system that cannot scale easily with new service demands or growth in users.

Edge networks struggling to cope with new computing paradigms

That’s not the only issue. The explosion in cloud computing, virtualization and mobile computing paradigms are also changing the demands on enterprise networks. While significant advances have been made in the data centre – the core networks – to help organizations deal with these emerging trends, the network edge has not been as big a beneficiary.

Thanks to virtualization and cloud computing, for instance, IT personnel can easily create and provision hundreds of virtual machines, or serve up new applications, with a few clicks of the mouse. Networks running on legacy architectures are finding it hard to keep up: a virtual machine makes the same demands on network resources as physical servers would. Provisioning network resources is much exponentially harder if networks are made up of a mish-mash of multiple proprietary devices and standards.

Furthermore, cloud-based application environments are more distributed, often with multiple tiers, and oriented toward service delivery. These application architecture changes have resulted in greater traffic volume on the Ethernet network – including storage traffic such as FCoE and iSCSI – increasing the amount of synchronization and replication data from the edge to the core of the network. And there is also greater traffic flow on a server-to-server or VM-to-VM basis—that is, east/west rather than primarily north/south traffic flows.

Finally, consider the effect of mobile access devices on the network edge. Already, over 700 million new smartphones entered the marketplace in 2012[1], many running smartphone applications that pull applications and data from the data centre, putting tremendous loads on Ethernet fabrics. These east/west traffic loads are not only bandwidth sensitive; they are also latency-sensitive. If edge infrastructures can’t handle these traffic loads, you end up with inadequate application responses.

Enter the Open Fabric Edge

With Open Fabric, Extreme Networks brought such features as high availability and low latency, low power, automation, resiliency, increased intelligence and open standards to the core networks. The Open Fabric Edge was the next natural step: this concept extends and expands these core capabilities and attributes throughout the enterprise, where additional functionality and services uniquely tailored to business requirements can be more easily deployed, managed, and modified as requirements change.

What does this mean for the organization? At a fundamental level, Open Fabric Edge enables lower TCO through more intelligent utilization of CAPEX. For example, multiple switches can be connected as a single virtual chassis, with a single IP address, to reduce complexity and enable easier management while providing a flexible way to increase density, capacity and port configuration choices.

In addition, the Open Fabric Edge allows organizations to create and manage a consistent, predictable and highly flexible IT infrastructure – built on a single operating system (ExtremeXOS) from the core to the edge. As a result, organizations can scale up (or down) networking resources as needed, secure and manage the infrastructure with less headaches, and deploy new IT services on demand.

The last is particularly exciting, since Open Fabric Edge lays the foundation for organisations to utilize a private cloud model to push out IT as a service (ITaaS) offerings. By sharing IT services across physical resource pools, organizations can deliver individual IT services such as Unified Communications, WLAN, Physical Security, and Audio Video Bridging (AVB) on the same physical platform, further driving down CAPEX.

Plays nicely with others

Yet, one oft-overlooked but crucial component of the edge network is its ability to play nicely with third party applications and services. IT departments are now less willing to take declarations of interoperability at face value, and require documented assurance that the products they place into their network can work with one another.

This is where Extreme’s Validated Solution (EVS) and extensive 3rd party testing comes in. Open Fabric Edge provides a flexible framework in which IT services can be deployed on demand with any partner supporting open standards, thus removing the risk of proprietary lock-in. As of the time of writing this article, Open Fabric Edge validated partnerships include Microsoft Lync for instant messaging, voice and video for corporate laptops and smartphones; AXIS and Milestone for video surveillance and physical security; Mitel and Shoretel for unified communications; and AXON, Avid, Barco, Biamp Systems and Harmon/Kardon for audio-video bridging solutions. More are in the works and will be announced in due course.

In short, the Open Fabric Edge helps businesses enjoy lower costs, greater manageability, and the flexibility to roll out new IT services over a single Ethernet network. By reducing network complexity and simplifying operations at the server-network edge with intelligent management capabilities, Open Fabric Edge lays the foundation for an organization’s move into virtualization and the cloud. Say goodbye to silos, and say hello to better ROI.



[1] “Global Smartphone Shipments Reach a Record 700 Million Units in 2012”, Strategy Analytics, Jan 2013

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