Advances in Campus LAN Products Continue Rapid Growth

Mike Fratto

Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • Campus LAN networking has been evolving for years without receiving as much of the limelight as other technologies.  That is going to change.
  • Technologies such as SDN and multi-path Ethernet are making their way into the campus LAN and offer similar benefits.

While data center networking has been getting the lion’s share of press and analyst love in the last few years, campus networking has been undergoing a rather quiet and steady revolution that is just as compelling as data center networking, and it’s getting more so.  The campus LAN already has a great deal of automation happening at the network edge, with capabilities such as network access control not only detecting hosts and users and granting access, but also configuring VLANs and applying QoS policies based on the user, the device, or the network.  Many of the networking platforms, with help from a policy server, can enforce policies based on a variety of characteristics.

Even if your organization does not go the network access control route, many edge devices are able to differentiate VoIP phones from computers, assign each to its own VLAN, and apply QoS markings. Newer edge switches are able to detect voice traffic from soft phones on PCs or discover iSCSI storage devices based on device discovery or traffic detection and groom the network accordingly.  Expect to see advances in application detection in the network grow, such as differentiating Web applications carried in HTTP in the future.

Expect software-defined networking, the ability to define paths through the network dynamically, to extend the automation efforts already in place with additional capabilities to optimize traffic based on application policy and network utilization.  In the campus, this is the end goal of data center-to-user networking.

Multi-path Ethernet (TRILL and SPB) is migrating from the data center to the campus LAN.  The use case is somewhat different in the campus; unlike a data center where servers and storage are densely packed and there are more options for cabling, campus networks will still resemble trees due to geographic location of users between floors and buildings (which naturally leads to a tree).  Additionally, the existing physical plant between wiring closets is capable of carrying only so much fiber/copper through conduit.  Re-architecting the physical plant would be very expensive and disruptive.

Protocols such as TRILL and SPB will provide separation and optimized networking from edge to core, potentially replacing proprietary stacking between access switches as well as proprietary multi-chassis LAG between network layers.  This is particularly true in situations where there is a collection of network equipment that can be meshed together.

There is a dizzying amount of activity occurring in campus networking, and as you plan your campus network designs, examining the product roadmaps from other vendors can open opportunities to better align your campus network with your overall IT plans. Don’t be held back by the potential impact of switching network vendors.  Sure, there will be some disruption, but you can manage it like any other IT project, and the upside is a better network tailored to what your organization needs.

About Mike Fratto
Mike is a senior analyst on the Business Technology and Software team covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. He has extensive experience reviewing and writing about enterprise remote access, security, and network infrastructure products.

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