Dell Grows Data Center Fabric With Switch, Management Tool

Dell is rolling out its Active Fabric solution with a new modular networking switch and management software for greater automation.

Dell officials are continuing to build out the company’s networking capabilities, this time with a new top-of-rack switch and new management software.

The new offerings come two months after the tech company unveiled a software-defined networking (SDN) strategy that is designed to work within any model that is adopted, from network virtualization overlays to OpenFlow deployments for cloud computing to legacy environments seeking greater programmability and openness.

Dell is driving to expand its networking initiative to create a complete fabric solution that leverages the networking technology it’s acquired over the past couple of years, particularly from its acquisition in 2011 of Force10 Networks, which has become the cornerstone of its enterprise networking efforts.

The company is announcing its Active Fabric networking offering, the next phase in an effort that over the past year has included rolling out converged systems. Dell’s Active Manager is designed to give enterprises a single software tool for managing their environments, not only for controlling their infrastructures but also automating the design, deployment and monitoring of the fabric.

In addition, the fabric itself includes the new S5000 module networking switch, which not only comes in a small 1U (1.75-inch) form factor, but includes such features as wide SDN support, complete storage networking capabilities and less complexity, thanks to integrated automation, scripting and software programmability.

“Creating a fabric has just become so much easier,” Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product marketing and management for Dell Networking, told eWEEK.

The end result is a data center fabric that saves money—as much as 77 percent on power costs, up to 59 percent on capital costs—and time. Having the single point of management and automation of designing and deployment can save IT administrators as much as 86 percent in deployment time, according to Dell officials.

“We make the use of new technology and the deployment of new technology as simple as possible,” Tom Burns, vice president and general manager of Dell Networking, told eWEEK.

Dell’s networking efforts are part of a larger plan by Dell executives to transform the company from simply a PC maker into an enterprise IT solutions provider, an initiative that CEO Michael Dell hopes to accelerate by taking the company private through a leveraged buyout. Dell has spent billions of dollars over the past several years acquiring companies to build out its capabilities in such areas as storage, software, services and networking, and company officials are pushing a “better together” message for their enterprise solutions.

The networking business has shown particular strength since the Force10 acquisition. In the fourth quarter of 2012, Dell saw a 42 percent jump in revenue for its networking unit, including more than 100 percent growth in its Force10 business. The Active Fabric offerings will play a key role in continuing the growth, according to Joshipura.

The Active Fabric Manager tool includes a design wizard that uses a graphical user interface for simplified mapping, and offers automated provisioning, validation and configuration that makes creating and management a fabric easier and faster while eliminating a lot of time-consuming command-line interfaces.

The software enables IT managers to view the fabric as a single entity rather than a collection of individual devices, with everything from servers and storage devices to the network being managed as a single unit. It also includes Perl and Python scripting.

The S5000 switch offers IT administrators a modular top-of-rack appliance that links not only server and networking but also storage. It comes with native Fibre Channel and Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet (FCoE) capabilities, and Dell’s Open Automation platform brings automation, scripting and programmable management for virtualized environments.

The modularity offers enterprises a pay-as-you-grow environment that can easily scale and storage networking capabilities that can offer support for iSCSI, RoCE (RDMA over Converged Ethernet), Fibre Channel, FCoE and network-attached storage on the same platform. The S5000, which runs the FTOS operating system inherited with Force10, also brings high local area network (LAN) and storage area network (SAN) convergence for greater density—1.5 to three times the port density compared with other offerings, according to Dell. The switch can reach a density of 64 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports or 48 Ethernet/Fibre Channel ports with 16 10GbE ports.

The switch also interoperates with technology from such vendors as Broadcom, Brocade, Emulex, Intel and Qlogic.

With the new offerings, “we are extending the fabric not just to the server and network, but … now to storage,” Dell’s Burns said.

The Active Fabric can scale from servers running 10s of virtual machines to systems running 10,000 or more VMs.

The Active Fabric Manager v1.5 will be available in late May, while the S5000 switch will be available in July.