In this age of cloud-based services, social media and the Internet Of Things, when everyone and everything is connected and even our once-local assets such as our documents, spreadsheets and photos are now stored and edited online, network connectivity has become more expensive than gold. Naturally, the biggest players with the biggest workloads face the challenges first, and pave the way beyond current technologies, protocols and methodologies. Recently we got great case studies when Amazon and Google shared their next-gen networking strategies.
Another major player that recently shared its next-gen networking strategy is Facebook. In a detailed blog post, Alexey Andreyev, a Facebook network engineer, shared a detailed technical overview of their new “data center fabric” that was piloted in their Altoona data center. This caught the attention of GigaOm, which last week invited Facebook’s Director of Network Engineering Najam Ahmad to a dedicated podcast to gain some more insight.
Facebook moved away from the old cluster-based architecture to the modern fabric-based one. This helped them overcome the endless race after the bleeding-edge and high-end networking equipment and the associated vendor lock-in:
To build the biggest clusters we needed the biggest networking devices, and those devices are available only from a limited set of vendors.
Another interesting point was about the move to a bottom-up Software Defined Networking (SDN) approach:
The only difference is that were essentially saying that we don’t want to build the networks in the traditional way. We want to build them in more of the SDN philosophy, and the vendors need to catch up, and so whoever provides the solution will be part of the system overall.
We see the trend of SDN and virtual networking also with vendors such as Amazon and Google, as well as with the cloud community such as was evident in the last OpenStack Summit. I expect network virtualization and software-defined methodologies shall become even more prominent in Facebook’s architecture as it evolves and as Facebook’s volumes and complexity grow.
Facebook is a great example of an online company in the largest scale, with more than 1.35 billion users around the globe, with a diverse set of services, application and workloads, and with an ever-increasing traffic volume (vast majority of which is machine-to-machine). These volumes challenge the traditional paradigms and trigger innovative approaches. I would keep a close eye on Facebook as a case study for the challenges we’d all face very soon.
Update: on Feb 2015 Facebook shared details on “6-pack”, a new open and modular switch in the heart of their datacenter networking architecture. you can read more about it in this post.
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