Most data centers today deploy separate LAN and storage
networks, with storage often divided between network attached
storage (NAS) for file-based applications and SANs for block-based
applications using Fibre Channel and Internet small computer system
interface (iSCSI) over IP protocols.
Although Fibre Channel offers enterprise-class performance and
is widely deployed, it is also very expensive, requiring a separate
infrastructure from SANs with separate switches, cables, and
expensive host bus adapters for each connection. You might
justify the cost when connecting a handful of physical servers, but
increasing virtualization drives the need for even more Fibre Channel
equipment. Maintaining two separate, growing fabrics with the
connectivity required in a highly virtualized environment is costly
Unified networking solutions over 10 GbE make it possible for
storage and LAN traffic to share a single 10 GbE fabric that carries
all these disparate types of traffic, plus traffic over Fibre Channel
over Ethernet (FCoE) that connects servers to Fibre Channel SANs.
This reduces requirements for SAN-specific hardware, including
adapters, switches, and cabling, decreasing costs and complexity.
Plus, recent Ethernet enhancements ensure lossless connectivity
and quality of service (QoS) for critical traffic, which is especially
important for storage.
Unified Networking at Intel
Intel IT recently upgraded its network architecture to a 10 GbE fabric
for its 90 data centers to accommodate current growth and meet
anticipated network demand in the future.7 Key drivers included server
virtualization and consolidation in the Intel office and enterprise
computing environments, rapid growth in high-performance-
demanding design-computing applications, and an ongoing 40
percent per year growth in Internet connection requirements.
The new data center fabric design has reduced data center
complexity, with fewer physical servers and switches, increased
throughput and reduced network latency, and improved adaptability
to meet future requirements, such as additional storage capacity.
Although server costs increased by 12 percent, overall total cost
of ownership (TCO) for 10 GbE as compared to the 1 GbE fabric
was reduced by 18 to 25 percent per server (cable infrastructure,
48 percent cost reduction; LAN infrastructure per port, 50 percent
Intel offers 10 GbE solutions with Intel Xeon® processor servers
and the Intel Ethernet Server Adapter X520. The Intel Ethernet
Server Adapter X520 supports LAN and storage traffic with
standard adapters rather than expensive, proprietary converged
network adapters (CNAs). Plus, this removes a potential performance
limitation8 and enables easy scaling. Intel Ethernet Server Adapter
X520 uses native FCoE and iSCSI initiators integrated into the
operating system or hypervisor to enable the Intel Xeon CPUs to
process storage protocols. Intelligent hardware offloads increase
throughput for unified networking and I/O virtualization and help
reduce system latency.
7 Ammann, Matt, et al. Upgrading Data Center Network Architecture to 10 Gigabit Ethernet. IT@Intel (January 2011).
8 CNAs rely on proprietary offload engines to process storage traffic. Storage traffic throughput is tied to that hardware engine, meaning performance will not improve as server
platforms improve. Intel’s approach scales with server advancements, meaning performance will improve as servers do.