What You Need to Know About Data Center Networking

May 17, 2021
March 8, 2023
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Data center networking is what makes it possible for your company to connect with its clients—whether they’re visiting your website for the very first time, making a user account or completing a transaction. 

By the end of this article, we’ll have demystified the key concepts of data center networking, in addition to providing you with an understanding of current data center networking trends.

What Is a Data Center?

A data center is a place where storage, network, and computational resources are connected by a communication network. This allows massive amounts of information (such as databases and websites) to be saved, secured, and queried by users from outside networks.

Functionally, a data center is a way station for receiving server requests and returning a response. It’s what happens every time you type something into Google, check the weather, or refresh your email.

While data itself is ethereal, it requires powerful and complex physical infrastructure to travel. 

Data Center Network Equipment

A lot of hardware goes into building a data center network. But the main components are cabling, hubs, routers, switches, and servers.

  1. Servers

Servers are the heart of any data center. They’re the means by which your computer can access websites, databases, and even email. Though they may look like enigmatic black boxes, they’re really just computers with a highly specialized function.

That function is to provide services on behalf of clients. Via a local area connection (LAN) or the internet, clients send requests to servers which then reply.

Compared to personal computers, server processors boast a higher core count, and support huge amounts of cache memory and RAM.

High-availability servers are critical, as downtime can translate to serious lost revenue. That’s why they rely on robust server operating systems and are equipped with redundant power supplies.

  1. Hubs, Switches and Routers

Hubs, switches, and routers are similar devices with similar functions. The main difference between them is in how they handle incoming data. 

  • Hubs are the most basic of the three. They’re layer 1 devices without intelligence. This means that devices connected to hubs can transmit data to one another; however, this data is also broadcast to every other device in its network. 

This lack of discrimination is a security risk and can adversely affect bandwidth.

  • Switches are classified as layer 2 devices. Similar to hubs, they have multiple ports which connect them to other devices via ethernet cables. Unlike hubs, however, switches can divert signals to their intended target by learning and storing MAC addresses.
  • As layer 3 devices, routers are a network’s gatekeeper. They keep track of other networks by reading IP addresses and exchange information with them. They feature built-in firewalls, allowing control over who moves internet packages through your network.

To sum up: Both hubs and switches are used to create networks and exchange data within a LAN, while routers are used to connect networks together. 

  1. Cabling

Data center network cabling is an essential facet of data center network architecture. It’s how servers, routers, and switches communicate. In general, fiber optic cables are the industry standard. 

Poor cabling design can result in reduced network speed. Worse, it can lead to equipment failure due to restricted airflow that prevents adequate cooling.

Let’s see how all these components work together.

Data Center Networking

Data Center Network Architecture

Data center network architecture (also known as data center network topology) is the blueprint for how data center equipment is combined and structured. The two priorities when designing a data center are performance and safety.

High performance is largely synonymous with high speed. Optimizing the placement of your data center networking equipment can streamline communication processes. Meanwhile, safety refers to the physical security of your equipment, which can be impacted by improper cooling and ventilation.

While there are many types of data center network topologies, the most commonly used model has been the three-tier DCN. 

Three-Tier Data Center Network

This legacy method has been widely implemented for its broad applicability. As the name suggests, it uses three levels of network switches to fulfill requests.

  1. Access Layer

In this model, the server rack usually contains one or two TOR switches (top-of-rack switches). These switches are also known as access layer switches, since they constitute the first step in a chain that allows servers to access the internet. 

On one end, TOR switches are hooked up to servers. On the other, they connect to second-tier switches known as the aggregation layer.

  1. Aggregation Layer

Also referred to as the distribution layer, aggregation layer switches are an essential bottleneck for data center security and application service devices. They’re the intermediary between the access layer and the top-tier layer of switches known as the core layer.

  1. Core Layer

As the third layer in the three-tier design, core switches are the most robust and powerful. These high-capacity switches serve as the final aggregation point and gatekeeper to the internet.

Data Center Network Equipment


Leaf/Spine Network Design

The leaf/spine (or Clos) design is the preferred architecture of modern data centers, as it offers a high-speed solution for east-west communication. 

Instead of TOR switches, this system uses leaf switches. Leaf switches still connect to servers but, instead of communicating with a second-tier distribution layer, speak directly to top-tier switches, called spine switches.

Spine switches truly are the backbone of a network data center. In contrast to the omnipotent core switches, spine switches share the load amongst themselves. In this model, each and every leaf switch is connected to each and every spine switch, producing what’s known as a full mesh. 

Though full mesh connectivity requires extensive cabling, this system is highly effective due to its less hierarchical and more distributed topology. 

In fact, the spine/leaf design reduces between-server communication to a mere two steps instead of three-plus-steps. It’s for this reason that Clos networks have become the new standard among big companies to manage network traffic.

Public Cloud

Owning and operating your own data center is a financially demanding endeavour. Today, as much as 94% of enterprises opt for public cloud hosting

There are certainly drawbacks to relying entirely on public cloud servers. For one, you have less control over computing and storage. Moreover, it’s difficult to observe data center network security best practices when you’re not behind the wheel.

On the flip side, you get access to cloud services, such as firewalls, redundancy, and performance optimization.

Hybrid Cloud

As of January 2021, it’s been reported that 64% of enterprises use a hybrid cloud model. This offers the best of both worlds. 

Having a traditional on-prem data center network infrastructure allows for increased data center network security, low latency, and custom storage infrastructure. Public cloud services, on the other hand, offer affordable hosting, easy scalability, microservices, and kubernetes. 

Integration Considerations

The hurdle businesses face when implementing a hybrid cloud is network management. 

It’s difficult enough when server admins and network engineers are forced to familiarize themselves with one new cloud portal. Now consider that hybrid cloud enterprises use an average of five clouds and you’re looking at a team of very disgruntled employees. 

Luckily, new softwares translate unique cloud portals into a single dashboard for network management. These real-time dashboards allow for network configuration management, bandwidth monitoring, and much more.

data center network architecture

Choosing the Right Data Center Networking Solution for You

We hope to have shed some light on networking architecture and networking trends. Of course, this is the tip of the iceberg. Choosing the right data center networking solution and data center network design for your company can be a long and complicated process—especially when it comes to hybrid cloud designs. 

That’s where Quadbridge comes in. 

At Quadbridge, we specialize in designing custom solutions to meet your business IT needs. We’re here to help you every step of the way—from solution implementation to data center networking and management. Our team of experts is focused on delivering seamless integration and building strong relationships. We provide the data center resources and network services your business needs to improve your overall network operations. 

Check out one of our many success stories with CM Labs, or speak to one of our professionals today to get a quote.

Quadbridge outperforms with end-to-end IT solutions and managed services

Client profile

Industry: Environmental
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