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Ethernet flattening becoming more common

By Max Burkhalter
September 19, 2011
Flattening Ethernet infrastructure so the majority of network processes are occurring in the network's second layer is becoming more common in the data center sector. However, this process comes with a few inherent risks that must be overcome before flatter Ethernet standards become pervasive. Despite these issues, the performance gains of flattened Ethernet are becoming critical, the Register reports.

Industry expert Greg Ferro told the news source flattened Ethernet networks are becoming key because of changes in how data center traffic flows. Traditionally, spanning tree protocol and other processes fostered north-south traffic through the data center. This led to significant amounts of communication between the edge and core of the network. Establishing the network in this configuration made sense, because approximately 80 percent of all network traffic was leaving the data center, traveling through the north-south path from the network core to the egress layer, according to Ferro.

However, Ferro told the Register the importance of north-south traffic has declined as virtualization creates an increased need for communication between servers. This is caused by virtualization's dependence on new VM deployment, migration and other processes that require communication between physical hardware. This type of network traffic is classified as east-west. Traditionally, this represented just 20 percent of the network's activity. However, Ferro said east-west traffic is now becoming much more prevalent, making the ratio between north-south and east-west network transmissions more evenly distributed.

As a result, the need for flatter Ethernet infrastructure that depends less on the third layer and improves efficiency within Layer 2 is becoming critical. Ferro told the news source deploying Ethernet in this way exposes the network to a few risks, but many of the potential issues are inherent to Ethernet in general, and will likely be dealt with as standards already in the works are ratified in the relatively near future.

A recent project completed by OnLive is a prime example of the growing importance of east-west data center traffic. The cloud gaming company depends heavily on virtual infrastructure to support its advanced video streaming services and needed more robust Ethernet infrastructure to enable content delivery. As a result, it upgraded its data center with new routers, switches and other equipment to support flatter infrastructure. In the end, the company was able to cut the third layer out of the data center entirely.


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