From Trees to Pancakes: Extreme Network’s BD X8 Flattens the Network to One Tier
With all the bad press Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) receives these days, it is difficult to believe that it was actually created to solve a problem. Although it was created in 1985, the IEEE published the first standard in 1990. When it became a standard, STP was supposed to encourage multi-vendor network compatibility, provide redundant links, and eliminate loops from a network. Today, network vendors are working as fast as they can to eliminate layers (eliminate the tree). Presently, you can’t play in the networking big leagues unless you have reduced your network offering to a two-tiered topology. Two tiers has become so standard that it’s almost yesterday’s news. However, the ever elusive “flat network” made of a single layer has only been accomplished logically, not physically. Virtual ports have allowed multiple stacks to talk to each other as a single device, but physically speaking, the top of rack switch still prevails. Any virtualization enabled top of rack switch of decent capacity is not cheap.
Although the single tier (physically speaking) continues to be a dream for the main stream data center, Extreme Networks may have discovered it with the capabilities of the Black Diamond X8. The X8 sits in the core and scales to 768 ports of 10GbE or 192 ports of 40 GbE per box. This density is unmatched by its competitors. The density also opens up the possibility of a single tier network (unlike its competitors). With this scalability, communication can be completely handled within the box; no intelligence is needed in the top of rack switch.
A single box, for an entire network…sounds like a cabling nightmare? Without a top of rack switch, it probably is a cabling nightmare (perhaps this is why a single layer is not widely advertised). However, consider a high density UTP system (cable management) as a replacement to a top of rack switch. These CAT systems scale to a dense level capable of organizing the cabling disaster that a maxed out X8 would bring absent a top of rack switch. In the end the UTP physically sits where the top of rack switch once did, but is a fraction of the cost (roughly a couple hundred dollars as opposed to a 7-10k top of rack switch).
All network vendors are working on flatter networks. Most are referring to it as a “fabric” strategy and have currently settled for a two-tier network that acts a single tier. With the X8, Extreme might have physically flattened the network to a single tier. Forget about the foggy “fabric” strategy that exists as one tier in logic, but two tiers in physical topology. Take care of the cables with a UTP system, and Extreme has the first pancake-flat network!