The quest for the data centre crown

Last month, on the sidelines of Brocade’s Annual Tech Day event in New York, I’d the opportunity to talk to the company’s Chief Marketing Officer, John McHugh. An Ethernet veteran, who previously headed HP’s networking business, McHugh is known for his deep and accurate insights into the quirky world of networking. Just 90-odd days into the job at Brocade, he is on a mission to turn around Brocade’s sagging fortunes in the Ethernet market, and is betting largely on the company’s freshly minted Brocade One vision, which envisages a unified network fabric by bringing together storage and networking. As anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about this very esoteric topic would tell you, these two worlds don’t collide. The reason is simple – storage network is specifically designed for non-blocking traffic in a high availability manner while Ethernet has always operated in a best-effort manner, and is not non-stop by its very nature. Now, combing them would not be a trivial task and is easier said than done.

Is this a technology pipedream? Not quite, if all the elements required to turn this half-baked concept into a reality fall into place; and it would seem this is one common goal that leading industry players are already working towards. As the race for the next-gen data centre heats up, Brocade will have to reckon with Cisco, HP and Juniper while jockeying for a position. First off the block was Cisco with its Unified Computing System, which combines storage, network and virtualization resources. Close on the heels was HP with its BladeSystem Matrix, a converged software, server, storage and network platform. Juniper‘s Stratus Project, though precious little is available in terms of details, is all about a converged data centre fabric. Drill deep down, and you would probably find that the key tenet of all these initiatives from different vendors is basically the same thing – simplify the network, collapse layers and make Ethernet the foundation of the next-gen data centre. Remember the old Sun saying, “the network is the computer”? Well, that’s passé, and “the network is the data centre” is the new mantra. If you are a CIO, there has never been a better time to build your data centre, just purely in terms of choices and approaches available. Just go out and explore.

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