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Four trends shape the New Data Center

IT execs adapt to a new reality as x86 virtualization transforms the data center forever

By , Network World
March 22, 2010 12:04 AM ET

Network World - Thanks to x86 server virtualization and its follow-on technologies, the state-of-the-art enterprise data center looks vastly different than it did even a year ago.

Tooling up for the new data center

And moving from old school to next-generation isn't just about hardware and software – it's a call for a new way of thinking about the data center, as well.

"Some people are so accustomed to one application, one server and a methodology that locks you in to one way of thinking that they're having a hard time fully understanding the new data center," says Bill Fife, director of technology for Wholesale Electric Supply Co., in Houston.

"But now with thin replication and replays and synchronization to disaster recovery sites, and virtual machines being able to move files from data store to data store and having multiple data stores on the server, and adding network adapters, you really have to sit back and think about how you want to run your operations and remember that you have options. You're not tied down to any one path. You can go down one road today and change directions tomorrow," Fife says.

Here are four of the major trends in today's data center:

Trend No. 1: I/0 virtualization

At Wholesale Electric Supply, Fife is capitalizing on the ability to virtualize I/O, one of the latest of several significant technology trends shaping the new data center.

I/O virtualization, also known as I/O aggregration, splits interconnections across either 10-gigabit InfiniBand or Ethernet links. Xsigo Systems' virtual I/O Director uses the former and Cisco's Nexus 5000 and 7000 switches the latter, for example.

"In either case, you connect this pipe and then you can get as many virtual Ethernet and Fibre Channel connections as you want out of it," says Logan Harbaugh, an independent analyst and member of the Network World Lab Alliance. "The architectures are similar, as there's a limit to how much they can vary and still provide some level of functionality."

I/O virtualization simplifies the hardware scenario in the data center rather considerably, reducing the number of connections running to each device while increasing flexibility. Take into consideration VMware's best practices recommendation that you assign 1G port per virtual machine (VM). With newer 24-core servers, you could theoretically run at least 24 and maybe as many as 50 VMs on a single piece of hardware, which in turn would mean needing 50 1G ports, Harbaugh says.

Realistically, even if you could get six four-port Ethernet boards, you'd still only be able to support 24 VMs. "The nice thing about I/O virtualization is that everything shares the one InfiniBand or 10G Ethernet connection as lots of 1G pipes."

At Wholesale Electric, Fife is using Xsigo's virtual I/O Director to decouple processing, storage and I/O. "By doing so we've essentially built our own cloud because we can assign processor, RAM, disk and I/O on an as-needed basis, and then, when they're no longer needed, get rid of it all and do something else," he says. "There are no rigid guidelines within which we have to operate. We can be extremely flexible."

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