Dell Debuts Active Fabric

Dell has announced its first SDN-ready active fabric, converged switch, and fabric manager—the next step in its evolution as a network provider.

The Dell Networking S5000 switch provides pay-as-you-grow Ethernet and Fibre Channel connectivity. Executives suggested that the new Active Fabric and management software has been purpose-built for so-called “east-west” traffic patterns that minimize passing through centralized switches, and instead communicates more directly between virtualized machines, servers, and storage.

The Active Fabric solutions, available in both 10-Gbit and 40-Gbit versions, are available now; the S5000 switch will be available in May, with the Dell Active Fabric Manager software v. 1.5 coming in July.

Tom Burns, vice president and general manager for Dell Networking, said that most SDN discussions take place in the context of an optimized environment—but the reality is that customers are typically working with a “hybrid” infrastructure made up of an existing datacenter, plus a “greenfield” opportunity of working from the ground up: “From the standpoint, I think that the word [SDN] is moving much faster than the technology.”

The industry defines SDN, at its most basic level, as the separation of the control plane from the data plane; after that, defining SDN gets messy. Arpit Joshipura, the head of product management and marketing for Dell Networking, said that the three camps have evolved: the proprietary approach from the largest vendors; those that work with existing physical networks; and those, like VMware, which “basically overlook” the physical network. Dell has moved to help define the market through the proposed addition of a Software-Defined Networking (SDN) standardization working committee within the Object Management Group, a standards body whose model-driven architecture comes up with specifications based on RFPs; as well as involvement in the OpenDaylight group for SDN technology.

Leveraging its Force10 and EqualLogic investments, Dell’s new fabric technology goes beyond the converged Active Infrastructure approach announced late last year. “Imagine a chassis is now a converged infrastructure module connecting modules of a server and a network together,” Burns said.

Dell claims that its Active Fabric supports networking virtualization overlays—using hypervisors from Microsoft, VMware and OpenStack—and that it supports Open Flow-based controllers from vendors such as Big Switch Networks. Active Fabric also supports legacy programmatic interfaces including Telnet/CLI, TCL, REST, SNMP, Perl and Python scripting, executives said. Data-center bridging enhancements including iSCSI, Fibre Channel (FC) and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) are supported, along with OpenFlow.

Dell’s Active Fabric Manager tool provides automated provisioning, validation and configuration, using a design wizard to map out the network.

The Dell Networking S5000 is Dell’s first 1U 10/40GbE top-of-rack LAN/SAN switch equipped with native FC and FCoE capabilities. Users can buy a single module, and then add on over time. The S5000 has a maximum of 64 x 10GbE ports, or 48 x Ethernet/FC ports with 16 x 10GbE ports. The 5000 supports iSCSI, RoCE, NAS, FCoE and FC fabric services—all on the same platform.

 

Image: Dell

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