Lights-Out Data Centers and Leaf-Spine Architecture


Lights-out data centers are fully automated facilities that can operate in the dark without on-site personnel. (Source: Shutterstock, courtesy of Beldon)









































































































































































































In this edition of Voices of the Industry, Shad Secrist, Data Center Presales Solutions Engineer at Beldon, discusses the backbone architecture in dormant data centers.

Shad Secrist, Data Center Pre-Sales Solutions Engineer at Beldon (source: Beldon)

When someone mentioned a data center that was shut down ten years ago, they were probably talking about a passive data center.

For redundancy and disaster recovery purposes, some organizations implemented an active-passive architecture: they built an active datacenter to serve as the primary location and a passive datacenter a few hundred kilometers from that. site. If the active site went down, the passive data center was on standby to take over and avoid downtime.

Today, however, an unattended data center (also known as an “unmanned data center”) is exactly what the name suggests: a fully automated facility that can operate in the dark without on-site personnel. The lights can literally be turned off to save the operator money. Instead of engineers and operations managers being on-site, data center services and equipment are monitored and managed remotely.

This means that the conditions do not necessarily have to be suitable for long-term occupation. Decisions about things like location, aisle layout, temperature, and server rack heights may not need to put human operators first. Instead, the focus can be on maximizing square footage. When people are needed on site (for a hardware change, for example), the data center sends an alert to let them know.

Lights-out data centers are a good example of what we call hybrid edge data centers. They support a blended approach to IT, storage, security, and support services for efficient and cost-effective data management, storage and analysis. They deliver latency-sensitive data close to users and integrate with central or centralized applications in public clouds or corporate data centers. Instead of only supporting outgoing data, they also support bidirectional data.

Lightweight data centers may not yet be mainstream (although many IT departments are already working with technologies such as software-defined networking [SDN] and virtualization), but COVID-19 has shown many operators what they could look like. In many cases, the pandemic has proven that data centers can still operate with much less human involvement than originally thought.

Layer 1 automation via the Leaf-Spine architecture

The traditional approach to data center networking has not kept up with technology. As applications and goals change, a more flexible topology is needed. Traditional networks tend not to be as scalable, agile, or flexible as they should be to support data center automation and shutdown.

As data centers move towards automation, many get stuck as they attempt to automate Layer 1 (the physical layer), which “plays” with cabling, connectivity, and local area networks (LANs). Software Defined Networking (SDN) is one way to facilitate automation at this level. While IT operations teams have provided on-demand services and change requests, Layer 1 networking has remained stubborn.

To facilitate automation, you can eliminate meeting room cross-connections and instead create a complete mesh network topology with leaf (aggregation) switches (which connect servers and storage) and spine switches with density. high ports (which connect the leaf switches). This is called leaf-thorn architecture.

The spine switches in the main distribution area do not connect to each other. Instead of running multiple point-to-point connections, each leaf switch connects to each backbone switch. The backbone provides traffic forwarding options for leaf switches. Traffic only moves from an ingress leaf switch to a backbone switch and egress to an egress leaf switch, reducing bottlenecks and latency for faster data transmission.

With the increase in cloud infrastructure, east-west traffic (the traffic that moves from server to server) increases. This type of traffic requires low latency to support time-sensitive and data-intensive applications. The Leaf-spine architecture supports this effort by ensuring that the traffic is always the same number of hops from its next destination.

As we plan to deploy a Leaf-Spine architecture to support high-speed, low-latency communications, structured cabling will be at the heart of making it possible.

Shad Sechrist is a Data Center Presales Solutions Engineer at Beldon. He has over 20 years of experience in the electrical and electronics manufacturing industry, including data center design, building infrastructure consulting, and network design. Belden designs, manufactures and markets a comprehensive portfolio of networking, security and connectivity technologies and products in a variety of industrial, corporate and professional broadcast markets. Learn more here about Belden’s cabling and connectivity solutions that help you improve space utilization and support low latency in your data center.


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