Life in the fast lane: Maintaining Ethernet that drives your IT environment

EthernetThe need for speed is a central concern for data center operators. These admins juggle server virtualization, cloud computing, LAN/SAN convergence, and big data collection, all of which require higher speeds. Not to mention the system limitations, data hogs, bottlenecks, and outdated cables that all act as roadblocks to optimal IT performance.

To keep IT running smoothly, administrators must balance their current network infrastructure with the demands of data-heavy applications. That means most data centers will need faster Ethernet at some point. But how you speed up your network depends in large part on your current system and future needs. Consider the following guidelines to kick your Ethernet into high gear.

Need a speed upgrade? Here’s how to tell.

Because a company’s servers must handle the needs of higher bandwidth applications, organizations relying on older systems with 1 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) at the access and 10 GbE at the distribution and core layers are replacing them with 10 GbE and 40 GbE systems, respectively, to handle data-intensive software and maintain the demands for more network speed.

Administrators must first determine if the speed of their Ethernet is optimized. Factors that influence bandwidth include the server host operating system and the requirements of individual application workloads. Reviewing your current bandwidth will help you in restructuring and upgrading your server infrastructure for the future. Also consider your network I/O growth, and how consolidating applications through server virtualization and cloud computing will influence your future network speed requirements.

Finally, evaluate your current server equipment – the standard today is 10 GbE for distribution and core layers. But relying on that standard will cost you soon – as you use more data-intensive services, you’ll eventually hit a bottleneck that will slow down your Ethernet. To avoid shutdowns and bottlenecks, it’s critical that IT professionals anticipate future use and opt for more capacity than what is currently needed.

How to upgrade for maximum speed

As software becomes more powerful, so must the hardware that runs it. Obviously, a server designed and installed a decade ago won’t be optimized for performance of new software, especially the software built for 64-bit processors that is commonplace today.

One way to maximize Ethernet speed is to refresh your hardware when new software is purchased. For example, if your IT team is migrating from Windows Server 2003, revamp your hardware as well, at minimum doubling your requirements for both CPU and RAM. This ensures your software runs smoothly and efficiently, and your systems have room to grow.

Also consider the physical cables used in your data center now. As you shift up from 10 GbE to 40 GbE, remember that you’ll need 4 times as many fibers to support higher bandwidths. However, Cisco has a 40GbE solution, called Bi-Di, which alleviates the problem by allowing existing OM3 multimode fiber using only two strands to support 40GbE. This greatly reduces costs for the data center cabling and allows the existing fiber plant to be used. However, some data center operators might instead opt to purchase new MPO-12 type fiber cables in their full upgrade.

The network infrastructure is the engine of an organization. Ideally, your network will run efficiently and without slowdowns, but without the proper maintenance and upgrades, Ethernet speed will suffer. IT professionals need to understand the newest architectures and what their current IT capacity can handle, and they must develop an upgrade plan to ensure Ethernet never slows users down.

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