Dell acquired Force 10 in July of 2011 and it has since come to form the core of Dell's overall networking efforts. With the Dell Virtual Network Architecture (VNA) the goal is to enable networks for the new era of cloud scalability and software defined networking (SDN) network programmability.
"Dell Virtual Network Architecture is an open IT networking framework for efficient IT infrastructure and workload intelligence," Arpit Joshipura, head of Product Management and Marketing for Dell's Force10 division, told EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet.
One of the key goals of the enhanced VNA is to integrate SDN concepts and bring them to the mainstream of networking. The idea is to enable a networking admin to take any workload running with any virtualization hypervisor and run it on a network -- without needing to know specifics of which VLAN or port needs to be used. A key attribute of VNA is that it is interoperable with other networking vendor gear. "It's the equivalent of what VMware has done for servers," Joshipura said.
Dell's new hardware
Enabling the VNA is new hardware from Dell in the form of the MXL 10/40 GbE Blade switch, which can plug into an existing Dell M1000e Blade Chassis. The aim with the MXL switch is to deliver full switching capabilities to the blade form factor, such that traffic that is generated from the blade chassis can be processed locally instead of going out to a top-of-rack switch.
The addition of 40 GbE is also a key attribute as the adoption of 10 GbE for servers continues to grow.
"For sequential workloads for business intelligence and media processing bandwidth and I/O are the critical issues," Joshipura said, " ... with 40 GbE links, networking isn't a bottleneck anymore."
From an SDN perspective, Dell isn’t simply providing an OpenFlow enabled switch, they are baking it into the whole VNA approach. OpenFlow is an emerging protocol for SDN that enables network programmability. Multiple vendors including HP, Juniper and Cisco are currently working on OpenFlow related efforts.
As part of the platform, Dell included automated mobility features for workload intelligence. As such, if an enterprise is running a specific workload and a virtual machine moves, the VNA architecture will follow the movement, regardless of which hypervisor is being used.
"The way we have defined VNA allows us to migrate the portion of people that want SDN to use an OpenFlow controller like Big Switch, with our connection abstraction on top," Joshipura said. "It allows us to orchestrate and automate a stack, whether it's a Dell stack or otherwise."