This technology continues to evolve as of this writing, and includes within its definition several approaches to simplify, converge (e.g., consolidate), and speed up the network within an IT network, especially within the data center. This usually involves actually reducing the amount of equipment needed, and in its ideal rendition, reduces the cost of implementation versus replacing the legacy technology, making it an emerging technology with an immediate payback.
One of the main goals in implementing this technology is often to increase bandwidth in the network within the data center, increasing data throughput to match the improvements in processing speed by current virtualized servers. The current desired speed of connections is typically up to 10 Gbps (gigabits per second).
The key component to this technology is converging the SAN and LAN switches. Conventionally, one set of switches manages communication between the servers and the Ethernet LAN, and another set manages communication between the servers and the SAN. A converged switch can handle both communications. This reduces the switches, ports, and interconnections required (Seger, 2013 Pg 38-40). To achieve the desired throughput, as well as saving energy at each connection, fiber optic cables are often installed. A typical copper port takes 2 to 4 watts to operate, depending on the length of the cable, compared to fiber optic port at 0.7W, so each connection saves a significant percentage of the energy, as well as increasing the bandwidth. Additional energy is saved by having fewer connections on the network. These ports typically operate nearly continuously.
One example of re-cabling is shown in the TAG presentation (Seger, 2013 Pg 38-40). In that example, a legacy network has these connections:
- Ethernet LAN Copper = 8 ports = 24W (assume 3W per port)
- Ethernet LAN fiber optic = 8 ports = 8W
- SAN = 16 Fibre Channel ports = 16W
- Total power (Ports only) = 48W
With the redesigned network, with converged switches:
- Ethernet LAN fiber optic = 8 ports = 8W
- FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) -- 4 ports = 4W
- SAN = 4 Fibre Channel ports = 4W
- Total power (Ports only) = 24W
Note that this is assuming a conservative assumption of one watt per fiber optic port, whereas the actual draw is more like 0.7W.
Another key component to this approach is the communication protocol. Communicating properly with these new switches requires new communications protocol. Instead of using the traditional Internet Protocol (IP), these systems use Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol (FCIP) or Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI). Other data access protocols are Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) and Fibre Connection (FICON). File access is often provided using Network File System (NFS) or Common Internet File System (CIFS) protocols (Wikipedia, 2013). These protocols allow much more efficient communication between the SANs and the servers, and particularly allow the data storage to be location-independent, to take full advantage of virtual storage technologies.
Depending on what is replaced, sometimes a bridging technology or protocol is required to communicate between new equipment and remaining legacy equipment. FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) is an example of a protocol that can help bridge that gap.
Lastly, the high-bandwidth, low-power connections are best achieved by using fiber optic cables.
The main manufacturers of these converging systems, including switches, software, and communication protocol, are Brocade Communications Systems and Cisco Systems, Inc. Many other manufacturers package these as their own equipment, but most of it is actually manufactured by these two companies.
Taking this integrated data solution concept one step further is the idea of fully integrating the full data system, including servers. One advantage of this is that it can take a lot less time for IT managers to plan and implement a fully integrated solution, and they only have one vendor to go to for service if something goes wrong. A full description of this approach and the many advantages can be found in an International Data Corporation (DC) article: (Villars, 2012). Though this was published by the IDC, it is sponsored by VCE, the manufacturer of the system featured, so take that into account. They do not mention energy savings, but do mention reduced infrastructure costs, faster deployment time, and increased IT staff and end-user productivity. They claim there's significantly less equipment; they decreased storage by 60%, network hardware by 63%, servers by 41%, facilities by 33%, and reduced power by 25%.