Times are a-changin’ in the network

Networking is a word that for many causes trepidation and excitement at the same time, and I’m not necessarily talking only about networking equipment in IT, I’m also talking about human networking. We all know how nerve racking it can be to step into a room full of strangers with the goal of branching out to meet new people.

As society has become more digitally focused with the way we interact, human networking has become a lot less scary for many. (while more scary for others!) Today, through tools like Facebook and Linkedin people can learn about each others most intimate details, interact in both a personal and professional capacity, and in many cases become closer to that person with far less effort or time than in the past.

Many people may be wondering what the above has to do with IT, and may be thinking that I’m just off on another one of my tangents and have no real direction with this blog post… Well here comes the meat and potatoes…

In IT networking there is about to be a major shift, not seen since organizations began to virtualize their servers in droves about three years ago. The shift is happening because the nature of data centers and the way data traverses a network is changing rapidly.  But to understand why, a small networking history lesson may be needed.


Traditional networks are based on a 3 tier/layer system in which servers connect to a top of rack (ToR) access layer switch which then send those connections to larger, denser aggregation layer switches. These switches usually take many 1GbE connections, and aggregate them into larger, more efficient 10GbE connections which then connect to the core switch which provides the required routing, management and security features. In this model data travels south (servers) to north (core), and then back south to the server the information has been requested from.

This model made sense when there were hundreds of physical servers in an environment, as it allowed for tools like spanning tree protocol (STP) to help facilitate failover and high availability of networks. It also ensured data policies around security and governance were followed on how data packets traveled within a network.

Then came the virtualization of servers, which changed everything for networking. For example, take an organization that moves 100 servers to 10, with those 10 physical severs having 100 virtual machines residing on them. In many cases these 10 servers would be housed inside of a blade server chassis, as blades are a generally accepted medium for the virtualization of rack servers.  In these cases there are many instances where a virtual machine (VM) in the same server as another VM need to communicate or  communicate with a VM in a blade server beside it within the same chassis. This consolidated environment means that the network needs to provide far more bandwidth than in the past, as well as deal with the change in traffic direction. As now servers are communicating in an east to west fashion, rather than in a north to south fashion.

This paradigm shift in the way data wants to travel in its most efficient form is causing clients a lot of capital in upgrades, as well as finding efficient ways to use tools like STP that really aren’t built to handle the way traffic flows in today’s virtualized world.

To help clients through this new, exciting and in many cases difficult times most vendors are looking for ways to remove un-necessary network layers, find ways to efficiently transfer data in an east to west rather than a north to south manner and provide a more consolidated management approach.

We feel this is a very exciting phase in networking and are looking forward to spending time with all our clients to educate them on some of the incredible tools to ensure the smooth transition to a fully virtualized environment, and for many people, an environment ready for the cloud.

Related Post: You can virtualize networks now?

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About Adam Wolfson

Adam Wolfson is now an HP Technical Architect here at Softchoice and holds more than 8 enterprise technical architecture certifications from HP.