What is data center networking, and how can you get started?

This feature explores the basics of data center networks, such as how to plan for data center consolidation, the effects of cloud services and how to handle data center interconnects.

Data center networking has always been a central part of enterprise network management. Data centers still play a crucial role in modern networking, yet this role has changed over time.

Data centers are facilities that hold an organization's networked computers, data storage and other resources. While many organizations still use on-premises data center networking, the advent of cloud environments and services force companies to modernize their data centers.

This compilation includes five considerations that can help organizations rethink their network designs and, therefore, their data center networking strategies. It explores various pros and cons of data center networking, as well as benefits of cloud environments and tips for consolidation and migration strategies.

What steps should you take for data center consolidation?

As organizations grow and expand, network teams should consider data center consolidation, in which they merge multiple data centers or run the facilities with minimized resources, according to Andrew Froehlich, president of West Gate Networks. Benefits of consolidation include centralized services, better efficiency and more reliable performance.

First, teams should figure out which applications and services they have, who uses those services and why users need those services. They should understand what moving services could mean for network and application performance and check if they can eliminate certain services or even data centers. If the organization can afford it, a public cloud provider can help manage excess data.

Teams should choose their consolidation path based on data flows and what works for their business and network needs, Froehlich said. Even if the path is more expensive than they planned, organizations can still save money later on if they choose the right path in the beginning.

Read more about what your data center consolidation plan should look like.

What's the difference between multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud strategies?

As cloud environments become more popular, teams should understand their options for cloud services. This includes public, private, multi-cloud and hybrid cloud services, said John Fruehe, an independent analyst. For private and public cloud services, the difference is where the provider deploys the services -- generally on premises for private and off premises for public -- and who has access to the environments.

How the organization handles private and public services reflects whether they will require a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud strategy. Multi-cloud environments comprise more than one cloud provider and can benefit organizations with various geographically dispersed applications. Hybrid cloud environments also have more than one provider but blend internal and external resources, Fruehe said. This means hybrid cloud environments manage multiple clouds as a single environment.

Discover more about multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud environments.

How does cloud data center networking affect bandwidth requirements?

When teams move workloads to private or public cloud providers, their bandwidth requirements change because bandwidth is no longer restricted to just the network. Some ways to adjust to a cloud strategy include better application coding, improved traffic analysis, smarter application management and multiple hosting locations, Fruehe said.

With cloud providers, teams can only access applications through a firewall because management is no longer on premises. This means applications need to be smaller and programmed cautiously for efficient bandwidth, Fruehe said. As application management occurs off premises, teams should manage inbound and outbound traffic to ensure quality of service. If the organization manages applications both on and off premises, teams should determine where each application goes based on the application's bandwidth and latency levels.

Learn more about bandwidth in cloud data center networking.

How can you improve data center interconnect designs?

Data center interconnect (DCI) technology connects two or more data centers to move high-volume and high-speed traffic between them. While customary, DCI technology can add complexity to networks because of various application requirements, according to network engineer Russ White. To start improving their DCI design, teams should examine an issue, determine its requirements and ask basic questions before they consider a technological deep dive to resolve it.

Many issues stem from stretched Ethernet or Layer 2 designs to make the environments appear as a single Ethernet domain, White said. Yet, Ethernet was not built to operate this way, and this extension could weaken the network and cause more failures.

DCI technology can also create security and telemetry challenges, White said. Some organizations use third-party providers to provision their DCI services, which can convince teams their connections are secure and managed properly and cause them to stop monitoring the connections themselves. Even with third-party providers, teams must prioritize security and telemetry features and manage them directly, White said.

Dive deeper into DCI technology challenges.

Does software networking fit modern data center networking requirements?

Software networking moves away from a traditional hardware approach to networking and encompasses capabilities such as programmability, interoperability and automation. Together, software networking and data center networking can provide agility, flexibility and support for legacy and cloud applications -- all of which are essential in modern networking.

Software networking enables teams to place modern compute and storage resources where they are required, said Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research. For example, teams can implement resources at the edge to better support IoT data.

Software networking can benefit data centers despite its immaturity; it can quickly provision new resources, provide scalability, enhance security, and offer traffic and monitoring analysis, Doyle said. Software networking also uses open APIs, which improves integration between data center software resources and offers universal access to users. However, most organizations are still in the beginning stages of this type of deployment.

Explore more details about software networking for data centers.

Next Steps

Seven steps to follow for your cloud migration strategy

What unicorns can tell you about data center application resilience

NOC vs. data center: What's the difference?

Dig Deeper on Cloud and data center networking

Unified Communications
Mobile Computing
Data Center