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Plexxi Brings Fluidity to Aligned Data Centers' Network

Carol Wilson
7/14/2016
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SDN startup Plexxi Networks is once again grabbing headlines with a new customer and a new network fabric that defines security, optimization and other features on a per-workload basis. (See Plexxi's New Network Fabric Offers Per-Workload Security, Features and Plexxi, Aligned Data Team on Combined Network, Data Center Services.)

Its new customer, Aligned Data Centers , is using Plexxi 's SDN technology to flexibly network its new collocation business, which features an interesting pay-per-use data center infrastructure that lets enterprises add compute and storage capacity as it is needed, and pay for what they use, rather than buying capacity in pre-determined blocks based on forecast future usage.

Key to that value-proposition is very flexible networking, inside the data center and in connecting that data center to local carrier hotels and beyond that to other data centers, notes Rajendran ("Raj") Avadaiappan, chief information officer of Aligned Energy, the parent company of Aligned Data Centers. By using a software-defined switch from Plexxi, Aligned is able to offer more efficient services to its enterprise and webscale customers and also offer network carriers benefits as well, such as peering at much lower cost.

The first of those data center facilities is now operating in Plano, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, and doesn't require enterprises or cloud providers to buy IT resources that fit pre-defined rack space or network capacity requirements, based on predicted use in coming years. Instead, customers can buy the capacity they need today, knowing they can easily expand that when needed and have all their capacity networked, Avadaiappan says.

Powered by Plexxi
The Plexxi technology powers that flexibility by making networking simpler within the data center, and thus eliminating the need for additional compute and storage capacity to be contiguous, or easily connected, he notes. Instead of having to anticipate future needs and reserve capacity in advance of what's needed -- to avoid paying for expensive networking arrangements later -- customers pay for what they need. That frees up capex resources and eliminates the problem of underutilized data center space. Aligned Data Center customers can buy what they need and expand as those needs grow, says Avadaiappan.

"The customer doesn't have to provide their own networking gear -- the routers and switches -- which they normally have to spend their capex to provide," Avadaiappan says. "Plexxi's technology allows us to run a trunk with the data center as our own infrastructure and when the customer comes in, they plug into that trunk."

As Plexxi CEO Rich Napolitano points out, the same switches can be used rack-to-rack and row-to-row within the data center and over dark fiber between data centers or over connections to carrier hotels. Aligned is actually using a Plexxi switch at each of the two carrier hotels to which it connects in Plano, Avadaiappan says, and is able to do so without dispatching engineers to handle connections.

"Because it is software controlled, we can place a Plexxi switch on the carrier hotel side and someone can just plug their cable into that switch," he comments.


Stay up-to-date on data center strategies including connectivity in the data center connectivity section of our Data Center page here on Light Reading.

Within the data center, each enterprise or cloud provider has a plug and play pod, and can choose to put switches within their pod. But the software-controlled network within the data center can turn up capacity as needed, while the IT resources can be expanded within the pod, giving customers maximum flexibility, he adds.

He sees Aligned Data Centers' approach to flexible IT resources and the Plexxi network flexibility as complementary to each other, but adds another wrinkle to the picture. While the data center offers customers the ability to flexibly add IT resources, the Plexxi network can flexibly increase their network capacity and tie together resources easily that aren't contiguous.

"When we add another pod, we add a Plexxi switch that is plugged into the backbone," Avadaiappan says. "The advantage to me is that I don't manage tons and tons of cables running all over the place -- the meet-me room gets connected to all of the servers."

As it works with major carriers, Aligned Data Centers also is offering peering services within its facilities -- services for which carriers would normally pay hefty prices to carrier hotel operators. Avadaiappan says the free or low-cost peering "isn't our primary business" but will be one way Aligned "incentivizes carriers" to connect to its facilities.

Napolitano says Plexxi cuts capex and opex for data centers in half and reduces cabling by 90%. The latter is a benefit Aligned heartily endorses. Avadaiappan says his Plano facility can host 72,000 servers and if one fifth of those are connected to the network, that's still 15,000 cables back to the meet-me room.

"If I get 15,000 cables in a room, I need to do a patch panel and I need to manage it," he says. "At first it looks great, but after six months it is a mess, and that is what you can see in most data centers."

New software releases
Plexxi's latest new products play well to the growing carrier interest in microservices, allowing individual applications to get the security, optimization level and other features that they require. The two new software releases allow the Plexxi network fabric to offer segmentation, security, optimization and visualization on a per-workload basis. That means network operators don't have to build separate monitoring and service assurance facilities.

Plexxi is touting its capabilities as part of the trend toward "hyper-converged integrated systems," which run in software on white boxes or open hardware systems. Being able to deliver per-application or per-workload capabilities via an HCIS is one of the goals of many network operators -- while they want to disaggregate software from hardware, they would like to retain control of security, optimization and other functions on a flexible basis.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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