Hiding the complexity and making tasks easier – an IT managers dream come true

In keeping up with the rapid advances in both technology and user demands, the data center network infrastructure is no longer just a matter of connecting a few servers, storage devices and network switches in a rack.  Today’s modern data center environments are complex and serve as a critical backbone that all of the modern applications and workloads businesses rely on.  From an IT managers perspective the designing, building and managing efforts associated with these complex infrastructures has become a daunting task.  Wouldn’t it be nice if this could be simplified much like when the early versions of the Apple OS and Microsoft Windows helped push the complexities of DOS command lines behind the curtains?

As more and more applications become virtualized and organizations start to deploy and utilize services in cloud offerings, the need for building and operating fabrics is essential for data centers of all sizes.  In the simplest of terms, a fabric is a flat layer of high-performance Ethernet switches that acts as an interconnecting backbone between a data centers server and storage platforms.  Dell’s Active Fabric solution includes a portfolio of high-performance, cost-effective and highly scalable switching devices purpose-built for modern data centers.  This industry changing technology is woven around these switches built on the CLOS architecture using a Spine-Leaf implementation.

Figure 1: Example of Dell’s Active Fabric architecture

As the number of nodes in a fabric increase, effective management becomes more and more complex for the IT organization.  Managing and monitoring these larger fabric networks increases in complexity from tasks like node image upgrade management, configuration management, performance management, fault management, etc.  These next generation data center fabric infrastructures need to be optimally designed and effectively managed to meet the end-to-end performance requirements.  Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some way for IT managers to hide this complexity and make life easier?

Dell’s Active Fabric Manager (AFM) is a key software application to help automate the tasks associated with designing, building and monitoring data center fabrics, reducing fabric deployment time by up to 86% compared to manual CLI configurations.  AFM provides IT managers with a single pane of glass through one console to design, build and monitor multiple fabrics from a single console.  IT organizations can design and deploy Layer 2 & Layer 3 fabrics within a matter of minutes.  Unlike traditional network management tools that primarily focus on performance monitoring of various network elements, AFM was built ground-up as an automation and orchestration tool for the entire fabric.  AFM also provides automated provisioning and configuration of the fabric by leveraging embedded automation capabilities.

Figure 2: Example small core AFM design template

Some of the key features and benefits from recent releases of AFM include:

  • Enhanced usability – with a redesigned wizard that includes customization options and simplified screens to aid IT departments during fabric planning and design
  • Additional platform support – including Dell S5000, S6000, PE M I/O aggregator giving customers even more choice in platforms
  • Broad ecosystem integration – with a northbound API integration with element managers including OMNM, VMware vSphere and OpenStack Neutron to help with further integration
  • Expanded number of fabric template designs – with over 100 Layer2/Layer3 fabric design templates giving customers a broader choice of pre-defined and validated templates to meet their unique requirements
  • Auto-discover capabilities for existing fabrics – providing customers with the ability to discover and bolt-on to existing Dell fabric installations
  • Support for converged LAN/SAN fabrics – with the ability to design converged LAN/SAN fabrics and help customers preserve their Fibre Channel investments

Figure 3: Example screen of AFM export function of final wiring plan

Data centers will continue to evolve to meet the demands of users and applications.  At the core of the data center, fabric infrastructures will continue to increase in complexity and be relied upon as the critical backbone for daily businesses activities.  Dell’s Active Fabric and Active Fabric Manager can help greatly simplify this complexity through the extensive use of templates and automation tools.  Find out more about these solutions at Dell Networking Software and have your dreams come true too.


About the Author: Don Root

Don Root was formerly part of Networking Product Marketing group for Dell Technologies.