Cheap Ways To Connect Data Centers

Data centers are only valuable if they can share data
Data centers are only valuable if they can share data
Image Credit:
Sean Ellis

As the person with the CIO job at your company, you have the added responsibility of maintaining your company’s data centers. No matter if you have only one data center or hundreds of them, they are only as valuable as their ability to communicate with each other and the outside world. The importance of information technology means that the accounting data stored in one data center is only useful if you can combine it with the tax information that is stored in another data center. Just exactly how are you going to ensure that your data centers can talk to each other?

Facebook’s Data Center Problem

The social networking giant Facebook has a data center problem that probably looks very much like the challenges that you are currently facing. As more and more of Facebook’s users are sharing online video and using games and other applications that require high-speed communications the need to interconnect their data centers has grown.

The challenges that Facebook has been facing when it comes to interconnecting data centers is that when they went looking for hardware that they could use to link their data centers using high bandwidth connections, all they could find were the major equipment vendors. This was not an ideal solution because the Facebook CIO knew that if the company started to rely on the software that is provided by the major hardware manufactures then they would be tied to them going forward. Additionally, the rate that these manufactures were improving their high speed high bandwidth gear was slower than Facebook wanted to move.

Facebook had faced a similar situation about five years ago. In that case, the issue had been the servers that they were purchasing to deploy in their data centers. The servers that were available on the market did not meet Facebook’s needs and the rate of innovation was too slow to keep up with Facebook’s changing demands. To solve this problem, Facebook launched the Open Compute Project in order to share what it had learned about building generic servers and spur the market to provide it with what it was looking for.

Facebook’s New Voyager Box

When it came to solving the problem of how to interconnect its data centers, Facebook decided that the same approach that they took with the Open Compute Project could be applied here. What they wanted to do was to create a “white box” project where generic equipment could be provided by a lesser known hardware manufacturer who could also offer lower prices than the major vendors.

The result of this effort is a new box called “Voyager”. Voyager is designed to allow a company to link geographically dispersed data centers using fiber optic cables. Facebook’s goal in developing Voyager is to get hardware companies to build and sell the device while at the same time getting software companies to write software that can be used to manage it.

The Voyager box has routing and switching features built in to it. The box has four ports that are each designed to send data over fiber optic networks at up to 200 Gbps. This transmission rate is equivalent to what the major hardware vendors are currently offering. The hope is that more hardware vendors will start to build this product and that will end up driving prices down.

What All Of This Means For You

When you are in the CIO position, you have the responsibility to make sure that the company’s networks are operating correctly. A key part of this is ensuring that the company’s various data centers are able to communicate with each other. These high bandwidth, high speed connections are expensive to buy and are only available from a few hardware manufacturers.

Facebook, the social networking giant, has faced the same problems. They have decided to solve this problem the same way that they solve the problem of not having the correct servers made available to them. They have created the open-source Voyager box. This box contains four interfaces that can operate at up to 200 Gbps in order to interconnect data centers.

It takes a company as big as Facebook in order to accomplish a task like this. Their open sourcing of the hardware that is used to interconnect data centers can only lead to higher quality products and lower costs. CIOs everywhere should be happy to hear about this new initiative and they should all support it.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Would you feel comfortable purchasing a “white box” device to interconnect your data centers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

By now I’m sure that because if the importance of information technology you’ve heard all about “the cloud”. This is the fantastic collection of servers and storage systems that are available to your company to use for a monthly subscription fee. All you have to do is pay your money, and then you can transfer your applications and storage from your expensive data centers to the much cheaper cloud systems. Sounds like a perfect solution to the ever present problem of too much to do and too little hardware to do it on, right? However, there are some serious drawbacks to moving your company’s IT operations to the cloud and you need to decide if the risk is worth it…