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Network consolidation and virtualization solve management issues

Consolidating networks can help organizations reduce costs and improve data center efficiency -- as long as they focus on security.

Network consolidation enables organizations to run data centers more efficiently and cost-effectively by reducing PCIe ports, switch ports and cables. Even so, consolidated networks can also introduce a level of risk, including security vulnerabilities.

Consolidation and virtualization are a natural pair, but not just for servers. Organizations can consolidate networks with converged network adapters (CNAs), which send both Fibre Channel and standard Ethernet traffic through a single port.

IT administrators must attach CNAs to converged switches that can separate both traffic types by sending Fibre Channel traffic to Fibre Channel-based storage area networks (SANs) and standard Ethernet traffic to Ethernet-based LANs. Communications between CNAs and converged switches use the Fibre Channel over Ethernet protocol.

Benefits of network consolidation

Network consolidation enables organizations to reduce the number of Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) ports required for network communications. A PCIe port is a serial expansion bus standard that connects a computer to one or more peripheral systems.

Every server has a finite number of PCIe ports, and each Ethernet adapter card and Fibre Channel host bus adapter consumes a port. Network consolidation reduces the number of network adapters and required PCIe ports because it sends both Fibre Channel and standard Ethernet traffic through a single port.

Network consolidation also reduces the number of required switch ports. Enterprise-grade network switches tend to be expensive. By reducing the number of switch ports, organizations can ensure cost savings.

There are two main disadvantages to using network consolidation: network bottlenecks and security vulnerabilities.

Another benefit of network consolidation is that both Fibre Channel and Ethernet traffic pass through a single adapter, which means organizations can reduce cabling requirements. Organizations can also standardize their switches with a single type of switch rather than using different switch types for Fibre Channel and Ethernet traffic.

Consolidated networks also guarantee packets won't be lost. Typically, packets on an IP network arrive out of order and, occasionally, go missing, which requires organizations to retransmit the packets. Consolidated networks are beneficial for workloads that require extreme reliability, such as hyperscale cloud computing environments.

In particular, enterprises should consider network consolidation if they want to reduce costs and simplify their networks. However, consolidated networks might also be a good fit for organizations that are looking to use quality of service (QoS) to prioritize network traffic.

Network consolidation introduces security concerns

There are two main disadvantages to using network consolidation: network bottlenecks and security vulnerabilities. When organizations reduce network components, traffic streams are more likely to compete. Organizations should use QoS to prioritize traffic streams and maintain network performance.

In addition, network consolidation can introduce security vulnerabilities. Fibre Channel traffic, which typically flows over a dedicated connection between a server and a SAN, shares a network segment with other types of traffic and network protocols on a consolidated network. This leaves Fibre Channel traffic open to any malicious activities that affect other types of traffic and protocols on the same network segment.

But Fibre Channel and Ethernet traffic are only combined on the segment linking the server to the converged switch. The switch then directs Fibre Channel traffic to the SAN and Ethernet traffic to the organization's Ethernet network. As such, organizations don't typically have to worry about storage traffic flowing across their user networks. Even so, organizations should take security seriously and use a monitoring tool, such as SolarWinds' Network Performance Monitor or Datadog's Network Performance Monitoring, to detect network anomalies.

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