Dell Makes Big SDN Play With New Fabric Technologies

Dell's new fabric technologies also represent one of the most significant networking launches Dell has staged since its August 2011 acquisition of data center networking specialist Force 10.

The cornerstone of Dell's new networking lineup is Dell Networking Active Fabric, a data center fabric solution Dell said was built from the ground up for virtualized, converged and SDN environments. Like competing fabric technologies, the promise of Networking Active Fabric is to "flatten" network architectures so they are easier to customize and manage, in addition to being more cost-effective.

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Dell said its Networking Active Fabric solution includes high-density and low-latency 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 40 Gigabit Ethernet switches, along with data center bridging technologies that allow for LAN and SAN convergence. Dell said Networking Active Fabric supports networking virtualization overlays by leveraging Microsoft, VMware and OpenStack hypervisors, and supports OpenFlow-based controllers from vendors including Big Switch Networks.

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Dell's Networking Active Fabric will go toe-to-toe with other fabric technologies targeted at virtualized data centers from vendors including Cisco, Brocade and Alcatel-Lucent. But according to Arpit Joshipura, vice president of networking product management and marketing at Dell, Dell's approach to converged infrastructures is unique in that it's entirely vendor-agnostic and is interwoven with the physical network, unlike the network overlays offered by VMware and Microsoft.

"There's lots of Cisco out there and there's lots of VMware out there, but what our strategy is at Dell is to help migrate legacy and overlay networks to this new era," Joshipura told CRN. "So what we do is we interoperate with Cisco in the legacy way, we very tightly interoperate with any hypervisor … and then we have OpenFlow support for our switches."

Meanwhile, Dell also rolled out Active Fabric Manager, a software suite that automates the tasks associated with planning, designing and monitoring network fabrics, along with its new Networking S5000 top-of-rack switch.

Active Fabric Manager, in particular, will present a new business play for the Dell channel, Joshipura said. The software delivers a design wizard that pieces together the optimal fabric design for a specific network and abstracts the fabric technologies so it can be managed as a single entity rather than at the device level. For Dell partners, Active Fabric Manager can be used to monitor and manage a customer's data center fabrics remotely, adding a heavy services angle to their sale of Dell's Networking Active Fabric.

"This is a very powerful software package for the channel," Joshipura said. "It's really the value-add our channel partners can provide."

Tom Burns, vice president and general manager of Dell's Networking business, added that Dell's ability to touch every aspect of the data center story -- whether it's storage, networking or management -- makes it the optimal vendor of choice for the channel when it comes to trends such as SDN.

"I think the differentiator for us is that we can provide a … broad base of technologies and capabilities," Burns said. "The number of players that can actually provide networking, servers and storage, the number of companies that can provide this level of management or this level of engagement, the number of companies that could be a complement to channel partners' services [is low]."

Dell Networking Active Fabric solutions are now available from Dell and through its global PartnerDirect partners. Active Fabric Manager will be available globally in late May 2013 and the Networking S5000 switch will be available globally in July 2013, Dell said.