Fields of Fiber

The Road Ahead – It’s Digital Transformation All The Way

Posted by Anthea Strezze on Feb 6, 2017 7:17:00 AM
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Week 1 introduced the idea of the Digital Transformation Road Trip and the question of what’s holding it up.
Week 2 took a look at who has a role to play in digital transformation, and how to get them on board.
Week 3 examined the problem of approaching digital transformation as a one-time project, and what to do instead.
Week 4 addressed the internal resistance to digital transformation that is inherent in your organizational silos, and some thoughts on how to overcome this challenge.
Week 5 broke down another impediment to effective digital transformation – the infrastructure bottleneck.

To close out the Digital Transformation Road Trip series, it’s time to take a look at the road ahead, and the technologies available today to make your data center infrastructure more dynamic.

Change is no longer optional – the question is when your network will change, not if.

Over the past decade, increases in demands for bandwidth and storage have outpaced anyone’s predictions, and that trend shows no signs of abating. Fiber optic cable is one of the tools data centers are using to deal with those demands, but the resulting growth of connection density introduces its own challenges. For those on the cutting edge, it has become obvious that manual processes simply cannot keep up – and the rest of the world will soon be faced with the same realization. The physical layer is finally due for a makeover, and it is never going to be the same.

Before we look ahead, it’s important to have an idea of what the present holds, and why the status quo is no longer adequate. Many of today’s data centers are still designed using a three-tier hierarchical architecture:

  • Access: The top-of-rack switches which provide connectivity between the servers within a rack and access outside of the rack
  • Aggregation: The end-of-row switches which provide connectivity between racks within a row and access outside of the row
  • Core: Massive centralized switches that provide connectivity between rows and also outside of the data center

Until recently, this architecture was sufficient for most enterprise data center needs, but the shift to fiber optic connectivity and the connection density that is now possible have turned the top-of-rack switch into a bottleneck rather than a crossroads.

A few years ago, high performance data centers started switching over to a spine and leaf type architecture, which offered more paths out of each rack and a more fabric-like pattern of interconnectivity. But spine and leaf still has the limitations of being a fixed architecture. In some markets and applications, it is already out of date.

How Dynamic is Your Data Center?

The webscale enterprises and cloud providers maintaining networks of hyperscale data centers around the world have driven the development of new approaches. Because of their size, they have the capacity to experiment with alternate data center structures, and to develop their own custom hardware and software. Fortunately for the rest of us, they share many of their results through initiatives such as the Open Compute Project, in order to drive widespread innovation.

Facebook and Google have also made news in recent years by sharing their overall approaches to data center architecture – although their designs have continued to evolve since then. Impressive as they are, however, the architectures described would not be accessible for most organizations. They are also still limited by the fixed nature of the infrastructure components. They provide flexibility through increased connectivity, without the dynamic capabilities that real-time visibility and software control will introduce.

For the next wave of digital transformation, webscale and enterprise data centers alike need a dynamic, software-managed approach to the physical components making up the network infrastructure.

The new generation of dynamic data centers will have to shift capacity and scale up as needed, not necessarily according to a planned upgrade cycle. They must be resilient in the face of natural disasters and security challenges, and agile enough to provide on-demand services for internal and external customers.

The physical layer of the data center, also known as Layer 1, needs to become a software-controllable network asset. This will enable new network architectures that are much more agile and adaptable than in the past. Our always-on culture will keep demanding new levels of resilience and responsiveness - for spikes in demand, for disaster recovery, and for developing new services we have not yet imagined.

Layer 1 SDN: The New Physical Layer will be Dynamic and Managed

Dynamic data center architecture is still evolving, but the first stages of software management of the physical layer are available today.

Fiber Mountain’s Glass Core® is designed to introduce the flexibility of software control into any physical network infrastructure through Layer 1 SDN. Your existing network infrastructure can be made more dynamic, extending the useful life of legacy equipment. Greenfield installations can incorporate Layer 1 SDN in innovative new designs that enable more agile, dynamic networks. Glass Core also allows legacy networks to integrate smoothly with more modern expansions or greenfield data centers.

Digital transformation is not a destination – it is a never-ending journey. Make sure your organization, your team and your network are dynamic enough to keep the journey going, and ensure that each milestone is more awesome and inspiring than the last!

If this was your first stop, check out the rest of the Digital Transformation Road Trip before you go:

Week 1 introduced the idea of the Digital Transformation Road Trip, and the question of what’s holding it up.
Week 2
took a look at who has a role to play in digital transformation, and how to get them on board.
Week 3 examined the problem of approaching digital transformation as a one-time project, and what to do instead.
Week 4 addressed the internal resistance to digital transformation that is inherent in your organizational silos, and some thoughts on how to overcome this challenge.
Week 5 broke down another impediment to effective digital transformation – the infrastructure bottleneck.
Week 6 wrapped it up with a look at how networks and data centers can become more agile, with a dynamic and managed physical layer. 

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Topics: digital transformation