Automate the Fabric

If you search the internet for data center automation tools, you will come up with many options. You can easily find software tools that automate server provisioning, network equipment configuration or monitor the different elements. But you cannot find tools for automatic fabric configuration.

Fabrics become more popular these days. If traditional aggregation switching in data centers of Cloud providers, Web 2.0 providers, and large-scale enterprises has been based on modular switches, we now see them being replaced by fabrics – arrays of fixed, 1U switches. These fabrics increase the flexibility and efficiency in data center aggregation – lower cost of equipment, power reduction, better scalability and high resiliency.

Mellanox Virtual Modular Switch™ (VMS) is such a fabric, comprised of Mellanox 10, 40, and 56GbE fixed switches. It provides an optimized approach for aggregating racks. The VMS excels in its flexibility, power savings and performance.  Based on Mellanox switches, the VMS leverages the unique advantages of the SwitchX-2, the highest performing 36-port 40GbE switching IC.

The Need for Automation

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The scalability that the fabrics bring drives a change in the way they are configured. The legacy way to configure switches and routers is scripting – each device has its management interface, typically CLI, and when the right configuration script is applied to each switch, they interwork as a single fabric. However, this approach does not scale and one cannot configure big fabrics in mega data centers this way, since creating and maintaining scripts for many fixed switches can become a nightmare. So, fabric creation automation is required – a tool that can do it both automatically and fast, to allow short setup time.


The VMS Wizard

This is what we provide with the VMS Wizard – an automation environment that was already used successfully by our customers in real-life installations. The concept is simple – provision the fabric with a centralized application, an application that knows how the switches interconnect and how they should operate in the data center, and essentially make them appear as one switching unit.

It starts with “paper design”, prior to installing the switches. Once the fabric size is defined and the types of switches in the fabric are selected, you are a few mouse clicks from having all the required files and data to configure the fabric – how to connect the switches and how to configure them. Then, after the switches are installed and connected, the wizard verifies the correctness of the connectivity and applies the configuration to the switches – usually by using the Puppet agent, or another management interface of choice. While doing that, our VMS Wizard can detect network issues – broken links, malfunctioning equipment etc.

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The VMS Wizard is an open tool, which can be downloaded for free. Once again, we reinforce our commitment to Open Ethernet, open source and Software Defined Networking (SDN).

Mellanox is involved and contributes to other open source projects, such as OpenStackONIE, Quagga and others, and already contributed certain adaptor applications to the open source community. Mellanox is also a leading member and contributor of the Open Compute Project, where it provides NICs, switches and software.

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