Avaya unveils switching blueprint for virtual data centers

VENA goes up against Cisco FabricPath, Juniper Virtual Chassis, Brocade One

Avaya this week unveiled software enhancements to its switches designed to allow users to optimize the network for business applications and services through virtualization.

Avaya’s Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA) is a software enhancement to Avaya’s 8600, 8800 and VSP 9000 Ethernet switches that supports the emerging IEEE 802.1AQ Shortest Path Bridging standard for deploying multiple active paths in a data center switching fabric. Shortest Path Bridging is an extension to the Multiple Spanning Tree Protocol that uses a link state routing protocol to allow switches to learn the shortest paths through an Ethernet fabric and dynamically adjust to topology changes.

Also read: Our interview with Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy

Avaya says VENA also includes tools for management of a virtualized environment and will be an integral feature of new switches coming from the vendor.

Several other vendors are also optimizing their switches for virtual data centers by supporting techniques that will allow them to configure multiple active paths in the network fabric for the scale and resiliency required for large-scale virtual machine deployments. Such techniques include the IETF’s Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL), Cisco’s FabricPath, Juniper’s Virtual Chassis and Brocade’s Brocade One and Virtual Cluster Switching architectures. Extreme has also unveiled a blueprint for virtualization-optimized switching that includes support for the IEEE’s Virtual Ethernet Port Aggregation (VEPA) specification.

“The vision that all of them are working towards is how to transform the network to better support virtualization,” says Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group. But with or without standards, “we’ll see customers deploy vendor-specific fabrics anyway.”

For those that choose Avaya’s VENA, they’ll be able to configure a ‘Virtual Services Fabric’ that Avaya says enables one-touch provisioning of network services. This is intended to create a ‘private cloud’ that simplifies access to content and applications. It is also designed to eliminate human error in manual provisioning or adding, deleting or changing applications in a virtualized environment.

“What the VM has done for the data center, we’re doing for the network,” says Avaya Data Solutions CTO Bill Seifert. “It allows the customer to set up a virtual network.”

According to Yankee Group, human error accounts for 37% of all network downtime and is the single biggest factor in network disruption.

Seifert says Avaya chose Shortest Path Bridging over TRILL as the underpinning for VENA because the IEEE specification is “simpler and much more suited” to Layer 2 switching.

As for future products, Avaya is developing a range of top-of-rack data center switches to support high-density 10G Ethernet with a migration to 40/100G Ethernet and FibreChannel-over-Ethernet. Avaya says it will also unveil a series of campus products in 2011 that will extend the VENA fabric to the campus and branch edge.  

In support of VENA, Avaya is also announcing a series of partnerships with data center heavyweights, including VMware for virtualization; QLogic, for converged data/storage networking; Coraid, for converged Ethernet SAN storage; and Silver Peak Systems, for data center WAN optimization. Also, Avaya plans to leverage existing partnerships with companies in its DevConnect program to develop and market third-party products that interoperate with Avaya technology.

Much of this interoperability will be through management APIs that integrate third-party products with Avaya’s Unified Communications Management suite.

Still, more details on VENA need to be disclosed in order for it to support an all-encompassing enterprise, Yankee Group’s Kerravala says. Avaya’s bread-and-butter is unified communications so the tie-in there has to be better articulated – but not to the exclusion of other enterprise applications.

Those details may come when the new campus products emerge next year.

“This is a good first step but in the larger enterprisewide architecture it needs to be fleshed out,” Kerravala says. “And they don’t want networking to be just an enabler of unified communications either.”

VENA is available now on Avaya’s VSP 9000 switch. It will be available on the 8600 and 8800 switches in February 2011.

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