Cisco’s March announcement of the Unified Computing System (UCS) concept was followed today by an even more dramatic data center technology: Wireless Data Center (WDC). Consolidating enterprise I/O on a Converged Network Adapter (CNA) turned out to be just the first step. Cisco was then able to leverage its leadership in Power over Ethernet (PoE) and Wi-Fi wireless Ethernet technology to create a true wireless data center solution. “Servers using WDC will literally have no wires at all,” exclaims Doug Gourmet, VP of Cisco’s Data Center Solutions Group.
Relying on the new 3.65 GHz spectrum and 802.11y, Cisco’s wireless access points now push 20 Watts per antenna. The company then created a new fabric protocol, Split-Path Interior Transmission (SPIT) and inserted it into the existing Wireless Inter-Network Domains (WIND) architecture, combining the bandwidth and power of many routers into a single network fabric. Cisco will integrate a redundant array of routers into a ceiling tile form factor, literally blanketing the data center in bandwidth and power at a density of 27 routers (or just over 500 Watts) per square meter. “Mixing SPIT into the WIND enables amazing levels of redundancy and bandwidth,” gushes nternetworking expert and CCIE Greg Ferrous, “who needs layer-3 protocols when you’ve got a layer-2 that looks like that?”.
But data center managers were even more pleased. “Mobility of virtual machines is one thing,” comments noted VMware expert, Scott Low, “but mobility of actual physical servers takes things to a whole new level!” Cisco has tweaked the racks for their recently-introduced server hardware to include wheels to enable greater mobility, and server vendors like Dell and HP are expected to match the company’s moves shortly. The company is also introducing a new line of data center-ready aprons and hats featuring lead shielding. DIY-focused blog Lifehacker has already released instructions on home-built shielded caps leveraging commonly-available sheets of micro-thin aluminum.
Unsurprisingly, not all vendors are on board with this idea. IBM has reportedly spent the last two decades working on a converged network connection leveraging bus and tag cables and the token-ring protocol and are expected to release it by 2020. And storage-focused companies have responded with a converged wireless connection of their own: IPoFCoWi-Fi layers the widely-used Internet protocols over a Fibre Channel fabric layered on wired or wireless Ethernet. Brocade’s April 1 purchase of Netgear gives that company the Wi-Fi know-how it will need, and QLogic has introduced IPoFCoWi-Fi CNAs for server use. But the storage industry is abuzz with rumors that Dell/EqualLogic, HP/LeftHand, and NetApp will instead tap Emulex to deliver an iSCSI solution on top of the new converged protocol. Not everyone thinks this is a good idea: Mark Fairley, videographer for FC true-believer 3PAR, claims that this iSCSIoIPoFCoWi-Fi combination “makes absolutely no sense.” HDS Chief Technology Officer, Hu Youshoulda, says that his company will stay on the sidelines, since their existing storage virtualization products already provide “more flexibility than anyone needs.”
Apple has not been silent in the move to wireless protocols, either. Rumors say that the company will host a low-key gathering Wednesday to introduce a new wireless fabric system for the home. Dubbed AirForce, it takes the concept one step further by powering the array of routers wirelessly as well. A single Apple AirForce Extreme base station will power up to 1,023 AirForce Express routers scattered throughout the home. This fabric will provide ample power for the company’s iPhone, iPod Touch, MacBook Air laptop, and forthcoming iMac Air desktop, and will include the FireWire protocol to keep Mac fans happy. The aluminum and glossy white plastic AirForce products will be released in time for the back-to-school shopping season.
VMware will enter the wireless data center space as well, offering virtual wireless connectivity and virtual power for virtual servers hosted in ESX 3.5. Microsoft is expected to weigh in with their own virtual wireless solution for Hyper-V by the end of the year.
Update! Chris Mellow of Britain’s staid and respectable newspaper, The Register, must have been up early. He reports this morning that the data center power folks aren’t standing still in the face of wireless: Liebert Corporation plans to introduce an enterprise version of the HomePlug powerline networking protocol, eliminating Cisco’s market entirely. APC is hedging its bets, joining both the powerline effort, and adding wheels and shielding against WDS RF energy to its racks as well. “The combination of Cisco’s high-density wireless power and APC’s racks brings a whole new meaning to the hot aisle/cool aisle concept,” reports Mellow.
Respected VMware watcher, Rich Brambles of VM/OPT also chimed in, noting the speed at which VMware implemented virtual wireless connectivity. “It wasn’t there in Update 4, which was released yesterday, but it’s here today,” reports Brambles. “It must have taken them a whole five minutes to get it running!”
Finally, EMC Global Marketing CTO, Chuck Hollers, has already penned five detailed posts about his company’s strategy to embrace both WDS and IPoFCoWi-Fi. He has written 10,000 words on the topic already this morning, so watch out for pithy quotes next week when we finish reading it all!
Update 2: Apparently, all of these people were pulling my leg. I just can’t believe it! Who would have thought that everyone in the industry would choose one day out of the year to lie to a guy? Sheesh!