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Data center moves to 10 GbE for server cable management

Building its virtualized cloud computing service, Surgient adopted 10 Gigabit Ethernet to reduce the rat's nest of data center networking cables and improve performance.

Surgient Inc. has moved to 10 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) to improve the performance of its cloud-computing service and avoid the rat's nest of cabling that typically underlies such big projects.

Surgient, a virtualization software vendor also provides about 60 server cabinets in a data center at company headquarters in Austin, Texas. There, on what it calls the Surgient Virtual Automation Platform, customers can host applications in a virtualized environment without worrying about hardware or facility maintenance. Evan Watkins, the director of data center operations at Surgient, said a traditional Gigabit Ethernet network gave him heartburn in more ways than one.

"When you start to achieve densities that you can with virtualization, you run into operational difficulties," he said. "You can have 80 to 100 network cables in a single cabinet going to a top-of-the-cabinet switch. In an environment where all those servers are live, it's difficult to do maintenance. It becomes a sort of rat's nest of cables and it's hard to maintain without operational errors."

Cutting down on cabling
By moving to 10 GbE, where each cable can carry more traffic, Surgient reduced the cable count down to 18 cables per cabinet, greatly easing maintenance. In addition, half of those 18 cables are for the company's Integrated Lights Out operation, so they're not connected to the network. Surgient uses them only for remote server management.

You can have 80 to 100 network cables in a single cabinet going to a top-of-the-cabinet switch.
Evan Watkins,
data center operations directorSurgient Inc.

Network performance was also a key motivator for the 10 GbE move. The company provides a bunch of servers that are available for hosting. It breaks physical servers into virtualized servers and then provides clients with customizable groups of virtualized servers that it calls "resource pools," said Chief Technology Officer Dave Malcomb. An end user goes to Surgient through a Web application and defines the resource pool required and when it has to be available. When a user finishes with these resources, they return to the pool of available assets for other users.

Needless to say, that sort of dynamism within the server environment requires a robust network, as virtualized servers in one physical box connect to virtualized servers in another physical box.

About a year and a half ago, Surgient decided to evaluate 10 GbE. It considered nearly 10 GgbE vendors, which amounted to nearly every provider in the market at the time. They chose Santa Clara, Calif.-based Woven Systems Inc..

Woven sells 10 GbE fabric switches and the technology vSCALE that it says helps foresee and avoid network traffic congestion. Joseph Ammirato, Woven's vice president of marketing, said the technology provides more networking paths between IT equipment than traditional Ethernet, thus allowing more ways to get traffic from one place to another.

"Woven can see congestion as it's about to happen and switch paths around before it happens," Ammirato said. "It allows customers to load-balance traffic across their networks."

Other vendors didn't provide this benefit. Watkins said. Surgient tested the Woven technology in-house for about two months. A year ago, they bought Woven's EFX 1000 Ethernet Fabric Switch – which acts as the network spine – to go with top-of-the-rack TRX 100 switches for each server cabinet.

"We've been in production for about six to seven months now," Watkins said. "We have many of our largest customers running on the environment, and it's being heavily used."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Data Center Facilities Pro blog.

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