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Startup proposes fiber-based Glass Core as a bold rethink of data center networking

John Dix | Oct. 3, 2014
Fiber Mountain says it can deliver up to twice the capacity for half the price, in a compelling new software defined network approach.

The economics
How do the numbers work out? Raza uses a typical data center row of 10 racks of servers as the basis for comparison. The traditional approach;

  • Each rack typically has two top-of-rack switches for redundancy, each of which costs about $50,000 (so $100,000/rack, or $1 million per row of 10 racks).
  • Each row typically has two end-of-row switches that cost about $75,000 each (another $150,000)
  • Cabling is usually 5%-10% of the cost (10% of $1.15 million adds $115,000)

Total: $1.265 million

With the Fiber Mountain approach:

  • Each top-of-rack switch has capacity enough to support two racks, so a fully redundant system for a row of 10 racks is 10 switches, each of which cost $30,000. ($300,000).
  • The 4000 series core device set up at the end of an isle costs roughly $30,000 (and you need two, so $60,000).
  •  Cabling is more expensive because of the fiber used, and while it wouldn't probably be more than double the expense, for this exercise Raza says to use $300,000.

Total $660,000. About half, and that doesn't include savings that would be realized by reducing demands on the legacy data center core now that you aren't "punting everything up" there all the time.

What's more, Raza says, "besides lower up front costs, we also promise great Opex savings because everything is under software control."

Getting there from here
No one, of course, rips out depreciated infrastructure to swap in untested gear, so how does the company stand a chance at gaining a foothold?

Incremental incursion.

Try us in one row, Raza says. Put in our top-of-rack switches and connect all the server fibers to that and the existing top-of-rack switch fibers to that, and connect our switches to one of our cores at the end of the isle. "Then, if you can get somewhere on fiber only, you can achieve that, or, if you need the legacy switch, you can shift traffic over to that," he says.

Down the road, connect the end of isle Glass Core directly to other end of row switches, bypassing the legacy core altogether. The goal, Raza says, is to direct connect racks and start to take legacy switching out.

While he is impressed by what he sees, IDC's Mehra says "the new paradigm comes with risks. What if it doesn't scale? What if it doesn't do what they promise? The question is, can they execute in the short term. I would give them six to 12 months to really prove themselves."

Raza says he has four large New York-based companies considering the technology now, and expects his first deployment to be later this month (October 2014).


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