Data-center survey: IT seeks faster switches, intelligent computing

As data use changes, so do technical needs of the data center operators, who want speed and intelligence.

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The growth in data use and consumption means the needs of IT managers are changing, and a survey from Omdia (formerly IHS Markit) found data-center operators are looking for intelligence of all sorts, not just the artificial kind.

Omdia analysts recently surveyed IT leaders from 140 North American enterprises with at least 101 employees working in North American offices and data centers and asked them what features they wanted the most in their networking technology.

The results say respondents expect to more than double their average number of data-center sites between 2019 and 2021, and the average number of servers deployed in data centers is expected to double over the same timeline.

“The on-premises enterprise data center continues to flourish,” the authors wrote in the report. “We are seeing a continuation of the enterprise DC growth phase signaled by the 2018 respondents and confirmed by the respondents of this study. The transformation of the on-premises DC to a cloud architecture continues, and the enterprise DC will be considered a first-class citizen as enterprises build their multi-clouds and shift compute to the edge.”

But the emphasis appears to be on networking and not necessarily server gear. From 2019 to 2021, more than 60% of respondents expect to increase their investments in Ethernet switches, Fibre Channel switches, network analytics, and network automation. The installed base of data-center Ethernet-switch ports will grow 27% between 2019 and 2021 with higher speeds (100/200/400GE) making up a larger portion of the deployed base.

High speeds (65% of respondents), openness and interoperability (65%), and application-awareness (65%) are the top features respondents seek when making data-center Ethernet-switching purchases. Increased port speeds are an obvious upgrade decision, and it remains top-of-mind for enterprises.

And not just any switches will do. The number of respondents using Open Compute Project (OCP)-certified switches has risen significantly since 2019: 76% of respondents adopted OCP switches in 2019 per the 2019 survey versus 60% of respondents in 2018. Bare-metal switches, like those offered by vendors of OCP-certified equipment, are available from several hardware vendors such as Edgecore, Delta Networks and Mellanox/Nvidia.

Smarter software

Application awareness and automated virtual machine (VM) movement are becoming more important as more data center traffic gets routed from central data centers to edge locations globally. Omdia says the results show that data-center networks can no longer operate in siloes, and respondents want solutions that are easy to integrate, allowing them to monitor their data across compute and storage, independent of physical data-center location.

And with all that data and virtual machines to move around, respondents seem to be keen on the benefits that AI promises to bring. Many vendors claim their high-throughput (100G-plus Ethernet) DC switches are designed for use in environments required to handle resource-intense applications like AI and ML. But Omdia says it remains to be seen how AI features will impact the DC networking market and what qualitative and quantitative outcomes will result.

Omdia also says data-center orchestration software will provide automated coordination and management of resource pools including network equipment, servers, and storage. “Enterprise IT teams are selecting orchestration software, and the choice for physical and virtual switching in the DC will depend on the orchestration software selected,” the report said.

It flags Red Hat Enterprise OpenStack Platform (celebrating its tenth anniversary this month), VMware vCloud, Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud [IAC], and Microsoft System Centerj among the leaders of data center orchestration.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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