This week, data center specialist Brocade announced its "HyperEdge" architecture for campus networks. The concept of HyperEdge is similar to the value proposition the company put forth with its data center fabric architecture – networking is becoming increasingly complex, so a simpler, flatter network is required to support companies moving forward.
Over the past few years, the concept of the network fabric has been aligned with the data center since this is where the most significant changes have been on the compute side. Virtualization, cloud computing, growth in storage and other trends have driven more East-West traffic, creating the need to move away from the traditional multi-tier, spanning tree (STP) supported network. The solutions offered by almost every mainstream network vendor today is to implement a two-tier network (or single-tier in the case of Juniper’s QFabric) based on TRILL, shortest path bridging or some sort of proprietary protocol to replace STP.
So if a change in traffic patterns has driven the need for a simpler, flatter data center network, why not apply the same principals to the campus? If you don’t think the traffic patterns are changing in campus, think again. Consider mobility, VoIP, video, AirPlay/AirPrint and cloud. All of these applications break the model of the tried-and-true client/server traffic patterns where network traffic flowed from the PC to the data center and then back. Many of the ones I listed above work best as peer-to-peer or, in the case of cloud, client-to-Internet, so forcing the traffic through the numerous campus tiers adds unnecessary latency to the traffic.
Brocade's campus fabric, or HyperEdge, is based on the following network principals:
- Increased network agility. This is one of the core tenets of software-defined networks as well as fabrics and is where the two architectures overlap. Collapsing the network layers enables greater network flexibility, leading to a more agile network, particularly at the edge. Brocade’s HyperEdge includes the mobile access network, which is important given the importance of BYOD today.
- Network automation. In every discussion I have with network managers today I stress the importance of network automation. The largest cause of network downtime remains human error caused by "fat fingering" when making rapid configuration changes. Network professionals should automate what they can today to improve network availability and offload those painstaking repetitive tasks.
- Lower cost. Overbuilding the network has been commonplace over the past decade or so. A rigid, static network forces organizations to build for peak capacity since there’s no way to reallocate bandwidth on the fly. An agile, fabric-based network creates that ability, meaning network managers can provision what they need instead of having to over provision.
To support the vision, Brocade announced a number of new products, including wireless, access edge, aggregation, and core switches. The company also announced Brocade Network Advisor management software. Management software is something that all of the network infrastructure vendors have focused on over the past few years. It’s almost impossible to manage the mobile, virtual, cloud-based world we operate in today with legacy management tools, so more and more customers I’ve talked to are looking to their hardware vendors to provide the necessary visibility into the environment so while the boxes are the shiny new toys the vendors like to focus on, the management software plays a crucial role in competitive differentiation.
Overall, I like the focus from Brocade on bringing the fabric principals out to the campus edge. The company has spent most of its history solving problems in the data center, so it’s good to see it extend the knowledge it gained in that environment and to the broader campus.