Rack Area Networking? But what if all you've got is a rack?

Date December 22, 2009

Have you heard of Rack Area Networking? I hadn't, until last week or so. According to Nigel Poulton, it's the newest craze sweeping the server rooms of the rich and famous. Or at least the rich and willing to spend money on hardware.

I'm not entirely sure that I've nailed it down just yet, but it sounds like the increased virtualization of, well, pretty much everything, from servers (old hat now) to host bus adaptors (HBAs), to the kitchen sink. And according to Nigel's blog entry, the emphasis is on the cleverness of it all.

Call me old fashioned, but I get sort of a twitch discussing clever like it's a good thing. Of course, I could be taking the term clever completely out of context. Some of the technology does sound pretty neat, and Nigel has written another entry since the original devoted to I/O Virtualization, and it features some cutting edge graphics. Go check it out, there's some serious hardware virtualization going on behind those crayon drawings.

I have no doubt that we small infrastructure admins are not going to have to deal with anything like this in the next year. Heck, I know a lot of shops that are just now getting their feet wet with normal server virtualization, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. It's a solution that fits a set of problems, and if you're not updating your current infrastructure, you probably won't jump out and implement it. But you should keep your eye on it.

And with these new technologies, 2010 should be interesting. Tech seems to have a trickle-down effect, and it's probably not going to be all that long before some of the software that we run starts to support that, and once that happens, people like Dell and HP are going to start shipping servers with watered down versions of this hardware, and eventually we'll need to deal with converged adapters, too.

At least, if we want to.

  • http://saintaardvarkthecarpeted.com/blog Saint Aardvark the Carpeted

    Huh...glad I read the second article, because after the first I was half-convinced he was just spinning/creating buzzwords. The idea of moving the ethernet cards (I know, don't be so concrete, but that's how I think) out of the box and doing...what, PCI over IB? is kind of interesting, and now I can see how that's different from just "ifconfig eth0:0 up".

    Dangit, I don't like thinking this early in the morning. Stop with the interesting posts, will you?

  • http://www.subversity.net/ Charles Hooper

    Even after reading the 2nd article it still seems like alot of buzzwords and magic.

    The concept is simple: Take a physical NIC, perform some magic on it, and make it appear to the OS as multiple NICs.

    Uh, has this guy heard of sub-interfaces? Bridged tap interfaces? VLANs? Trunked ports with dot1q encapsulation?

    The Converged Network Adapter concept does seem interesting, although I'm not sure I want a single adapter responsible for my storage and networking needs. I thought our job was to eliminate single point-of-failures.

    And yeah, I too look at the adjective clever sideways.

  • http://www.nigelpoulton.com Nigel Poulton

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for reading and mentioning my recent RAN related posts.

    For you and all your readers.....I assure you I'm not just making up buzzwords. These are technologies and concepts that are either already shipping or under development.

    I have seen, handled and used the Xsigo, Emulex and VirtenSys solutions - they are real and do some great stuff. Ive also spoken extensively with CTOs and product guys at these companies, and more...... and believe me, these guys are talking about things that blow my mind.

    As Im sure you're aware, SR-IOV is an official PCI-SIG standard and was showcased by Citrix at IDF recently on Xen using an Intel NIC and hypervisor bypass. Its real and its coming and I personally think its potentially game changing.

    Sure, these technologies are young and somewhat fledgling, but they promise so many benefits that Im certain they will drive huge changes in the future, IMHO.

    Also hairpinning and bridging within the PCI adapter is on course to spark a holy war in the networking world. While 10/40/100 Gbps Ethernet is under development and costs COSTS and COSTS!! respectively. Think of I/O as PCIe and its..... well..... almost free! You already have the infrastructure in place at huge bandwidths!

    Im happy to take any comments and accusation over on my blog if people think Im pulling a fast one. But Ive never pulled one in the past and have no plans to in the future ;-)

    Nigel

  • http://buyaserver.com.au/ Garry

    With floor space at a premium, rack servers provide infrastructure scalability without the large footprint. Designed for vertical arrangement, they deliver solutions for today with the flexibility to run your business tomorrow. I recently pick up an IBM with details of the Rack Server from the IBM website.