New ways to realize full potential of networking

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It’s time to open up the network and realize the full potential it has to transform today’s data centers. New dynamics such as SDN, network resource pooling, overlays, East-West traffic and cloud computing have changed how networks need to behave.

These factors necessitate a new way of networking from the traditional three-tier chassis-based architecture of the past. Disruption is in Dell’s DNA, and it’s networking’s turn. We’re seeing four big disruptors happening right now, and we’re leading the way:

1. To chassis, or not to chassis? That is the question.

First we challenged conventional wisdom and architectures in the data center…calling in question the monolithic chassis switches that prevail.


Dell pioneered the development and delivery of spine and leaf architectures using smaller, fixed-form factor switches. We call it Active Fabric. This fabric removes the complexity of traditional, three-tier networking and offers a more efficient, economical and scalable solution. We launched our flagship Z9000 fabric switching node a few years ago and it is now successfully deployed in some of the largest scale-out cloud environments around the world.

2. Talk to Management

Next, as we gained more experience with leaf-spine deployments, we kicked things up a few levels with innovative software to simplify and automate the configuration, deployment, management, and monitoring of Active Fabric deployments—Active Fabric Manager. We’ve invested considerably in this functionality, fast approaching version 3.0.

Active Fabric Manager brings server-like programming to the network with scripting and other commonly used tools. We developed an intuitive interface that guides customers from network design through the wiring plan to finally configure and commission the fabric. Active Fabric Manager also streamlines and automates repetitious and time-consuming manual tasks and provides a single-pane of glass to give administrators a bird’s eye view of their entire network.

3.“Splitsville” for control/data planes

Having disaggregated the data center chassis switch with Active Fabric, and simplifying management with Active Fabric Manager, we took the next step by decoupling the control plane and data plane elements within our fabric switches. One way to do this was by making our switches OpenFlow—enabled, the very seed of SDN. But customers are looking at a variety of other ways to get similar functionality such as network overlays. Dell is the only networking vendor to support multiple, interoperable approaches to SDN—we call it an agnostic approach —which ultimately gives our customers options for how they choose to architect and deploy their data center networks.

4. Ultimate openness—decouple data plane hardware/software

With all of the above, we didn’t stop there. Now we’re decoupling the data plane software from the physical switch that it resides on. Our recent announcement with Cumulus Networks is a big step towards realizing our vision for new data center networking – an open ecosystem that offers customers the best of breed industry-standard networking gear, network applications and network operating systems to serve their challenging business needs.

This takes the notion of ‘customer choice’ to the ultimate level as customers can now, for the first time, mix-and-match data plane software from various vendors with physical switches. We are transforming the entire value chain from networking solutions acquisition, deployment, management, growth and global support with our totally disaggregated networking architectures and switches.

Why is everything mentioned above so important? We believe opening up networking stimulates rapid innovation that drives the network ecosystem to achieve a level of power and efficiency never before seen in this industry. We have been leading innovation in open networking for a number of years with smart acquisitions and innovations. And now we are making vertically integrated networks irrelevant.

(Christopher Papa is director and country manager of Dell Philippines)

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