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How does FlexFabric fit in HP's data center networking vision?

Converged Infrastructure is a hot topic in the data center at the moment, with many infrastructure vendors-including HP-talking about how to optimize your data center as you consolidate, integrate and simplify your computing infrastructure.  


One of the four pillars of an HP Converged Infrastructure is the HP FlexFabric - which I'm afraid to admit I've been a little confused about.  To help clarify, I had a chance to sit down with Dan Montesanto from HP's data center networking team.  Here are some highlights from our discussion.




Andy: So Dan - What is a FlexFabric network?


Dan: At its core, a FlexFabric network is a network built to optimize server virtualization within the data center. It includes switches and routers, combined with security tools and management software organized in an optimal topology to support virtualization. As part of HP’s over-arching Converged Infrastructure Architecture, it’s an interconnect for an overall IT solution for the data center and out to the extended enterprise network. The central idea is to align networking much more closely with server, storage, software, and power management so those -silos- can work better and smarter together.


The key attributes of a FlexFabric network are:


  • Simplification - consolidate and reduce network layers to make it easier to manage and scale with predictable performance
  • Agility - configure the network so that you only have to ‘wire-once’ and yet can still make VM changes or provision new machines with minimal disruption.  
  • Efficiency - using fewer systems that each use less power, and have a lower acquisition cost


Andy: Is it a vision for how you would build an ideal network? or a set of products that you can buy and deploy today?


server edge flexiblity.jpgDan: Actually - it’s a little of both. You can build a FlexFabric network today with products currently available from HP, taking small incremental or larger steps to enable your network for virtualization-optimized, depending on your business needs.


Today the blueprint for an 'ideal' FlexFabric network calls for a virtualization-optimized server edge with Virtual Connect FlexFabric or Virtual Connect Flex-10 for HP BladeSystem and a consolidated core/aggregation interconnect using HP A12500 modular switches. 


For more 'traditional' network designs, HP has high performance top-of-rack switches like the A5820 series that provide server edge connectivity. 




Andy: What are some of the key technologies that enable a FlexFabric network?


Dan: The higher performing and resilient the network, the better it will meet the needs of a virtualized server



Evolution of Hierarchical to flat networksHP's Intelligent Resilient Framework (IRF) technology-integrated into all A-series top-of-rack and modular switch products-improves network performance by doing away with -dead links - in traditional spanning tree implementations, and provides must faster failover times between redundant connections and devices. It also allows you to manage up to nine physical switches as a single virtual device.  


Another unique feature of IRF is you can manage an IRF ‘stack’ over a long-distance connection-say, 70km-letting you manage physical switches in two separate physical locations as a single virtual switch. Along with the improved performance and resiliency, in this model IRF can provide a high-performance, low latency Layer 2 ‘path’ for moving server virtual machines between data centers using technologies like vMotion.  


Andy: OK, that’s the 'today' story. Tell us more about the FlexFabric vision of an ideal network.

 The FlexFabric network architecture also describes a vision and set of objectives that guide how it will evolve over time.


One of these objectives is the need to make it easier and faster to provision a network connection for a new virtual machine or server. We're working on ways to make the network appear as a service that can be turned on or off as needed to provide connectivity to servers or storage devices.


Today we can do this with Virtual Connect, which makes network and server provisioning work faster and better together. Over time, we’ll bring network and server/storage provisioning into even closer alignment through complete data center orchestration. 


The objective is to allow you to provision the entire set of network, server and storage resources on-demand, or as the applications need them.


HP FlexFabric evolution


Andy: So what's in the future for the FlexFabric network?

Beyond data center provisioning, you’ll see new technologies and tools to further support virtualized workload environments and simplify network designs. Protocols like VEPA - which provides for security and policy management of inter-virtual machine traffic - and also evolving FCoE/CEE standards that will further storage/server network convergence.


HP has a big role in the development of these standards and the FlexFabric network architecture will evolve to make best of use of them. 


Learn more


Thanks to Dan for taking the time for this explanation.  


If you'd like to find out more about the FlexFabric network architecture, or for more info on Converged Infrastructure - check out these links below:



Labels: data center
LauraLeeHP | ‎11-18-2010 04:38 PM

Follow-up: new video on HP Networking FlexFabric technology: http://bit.ly/9XamXN

markadam | ‎03-02-2011 05:57 AM

Great article . A lot of our customers are taking that 1st step towards convergence. Virtualize, automate, standardize, consolidate, by linking these initiatives together, they start to transform aging data center environments into one that's geared for growth.

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