I’ve been catching up on the Juniper QFabric announcement from yesterday. While I’m still attempting to digest the ramifications of the technology and the methodology that this brings to the Data Centre let’s step back and take a wider look at what this means for the ethernet switching marketplace.
For the last 20 years or even longer there has always been just one market for ethernet switches. We’ve had product lines for ethernet that were used for all application, a single product segment where the same Ethernet switch in all cases and there wasn’t much difference in implementation.
Looking back it has been clear for a while that, and perhaps today’s launch of QFabric highlights the issue even more than before, there are now three distinct markets for ethernet switches: Data Centre, Campus LAN, Service Provider
And vendors will have product lines for each market they wish to approach. For example Cisco has the 6500 products for campus LAN, the Nexus product lines for the data centre (although they are attempting to position nexus as campus), and the service provider variants of the same equipment that apparently are different.
Compare this strategy with Avaya who are positioning the ERS8600 as Campus LAN and Service Provider only. They have elected to not develop any fabric-like capabilities, but continue with the SMLT for campus and add Shortest Path Bridging for service providers. While they will claim that SPB can be used in the data centre, I judge this unlikely to be successful. Not because SPB doesn’t work, but because they are not selling directly to data centre customers they are unlikely to be taken seriously. (Why ? It’s my guess that they probably don’t have the money to do the R&D for silicon to support TRILL. After all, IP Telephony doesn’t need Data Centres. Right ? )
What Does Ethernet Market Segmentation this mean for us?
I guess the most obvious one is that skills learned in the campus LAN and not necessarily transferable to the Data Centre. For example the use of TRILL in the Data Centre is significantly different from using Rapid Spanning tree in the campus LAN, the use of MLAG either as stackable, fate shared chassis, or traditional chassis technologies. . Although some of these skills overlap, there are significant differences.
Secondly, our approach to sparing and servicing will change slightly as the product is each segment will differentiate further overtime. It will increase productivity and increase support costs for the networking team in general. Product diversity increases costs (certainly does not reduce them), and therefore the not so obvious outcome of “data centre consolidation” is that support costs will rise for most enterprises.
When choosing Ethernet switches, you’ll need to understand the difference between product families. For examples, Cisco N7K is data centre today and may never be destined for use in Campus LANs where the C4500 could become standard (the C4500 Sup9 has the similar performance as the C6500 Sup720). For Juniper, The ERX becomes Campus, and the QFX products will become Data Centre focussed.
For many companies, this will create some confusion since the Campus switches can, of course, be used for connecting servers and building data centres as we do today with Spanning Tree. However, you probably won’t get Equal Cost Multi Path (ECMP) since the Ethernet silicon that supports TRILL is in specific models.
The EtherealMind View
As always, “It Depends”, but the segmentation of the Ethernet Switching market is fascinating. How far can we stretch the Ethernet standard to suit different purposes and outcomes. As customers, we need to understand the differences between the market segments, and how that drives the features in the products, so that we purchase the right product.
Pay attention, it’s getting interesting.