The Case for Whale Sharks and Micro Data Centers

Data Center

The last several years have experienced a huge migration of IT infrastructure to the public cloud.  And it all makes sense, let the cloud provider invent in, manage, and scale the infrastructure which leads to lower costs and improved organization agility for the end-user.

Let’s compare the public cloud to the whale shark – one of the largest animals in the world. While its sheer size is imposing, it is actually docile and works in tandem with smaller fish. The smaller fish, or pilot fish, help keep parasites away from the whale shark and in return, the whale shark acts as a body guard for the smaller fish.

Now, while large public cloud providers continue to grow (the whale sharks are getting bigger!), there is also a huge growth in the number of Edge or Micro Data Centers. The fish are multiplying, because they can be more agile and faster, and go places where the public cloud cannot.

Why?  Autonomous vehicles are becoming closer to reality. Smart Cities are emerging with the use of Internet of Things technology. Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) have seen huge advances. And, of course, enterprises are realizing that they must follow a hybrid strategy. They need to use aggregation data centers between their users and centralized cloud infrastructure, in addition to remote office, branch office (ROBO) hyperconverged (HCI) infrastructure.

In a recent blog, Yuval Bachar, Principal Engineer of Data Center Architecture of LinkedIn, noted that, “Looking at the number of locations and servers per locations globally, the number of nodes [in edge data centers] will accumulate to be larger than the number of compute nodes in the traditional cloud data centers within the next 3-5 years.”

Hybrid Cloud, Autonomous Vehicles, AR/VR, IoT – just some of the drivers toward Micro Data Centers.

This is resulting in the need for Micro Data Centers. In general, there are data centers with power consumption of less than 1MW; and in many instances, significantly less. The Micro Data Center can take many forms, including a data center rack on wheels, a shipping container, a modular, expandable structure, a Navy ship, and even existing cell sites and telecom huts.

A wide variety of Micro Data Center form factors.


No matter the form factor of the Micro Data Center, it’s still providing the following values:

  • Immediate Response and Low Latency; provide compute services as close to the edge as possible.
  • Data Processing; locally process huge amounts of data for immediate action, often utilizing machine learning and analytics.
  • Data Aggregation; aggregate and summarize data to centralized cloud, preventing the needs of large and expensive data movement across the WAN.
  • Interconnectedness; provide connectivity to the edge devices as well as centralized cloud resources and other Micro Data Centers.
  • Light Footprint; small physical form factors, as well as very low power and cooling needs, allowing for flexibility in where the Micro Data Center is deployed.

No wonder the whale shark hangs out with the pilot fish!

Mellanox builds Ethernet switches which are perfect for Micro Data Centers to large, scale-out data centers. This allows you to deploy the switch you need, where you need it, and leverage a single family of switches across all your data centers; small, medium, and large.

A wide range of Ethernet switch form factors – prefect for any data center, micro to very large.


Take, for instance, our newest switch addition, the SN2010. It provides 18×10/25G and 4x100G interfaces all in a half rack unit. This means that you can provide a hyperconverged cluster with a fully redundant network configuration in one rack unit. The dual switch configuration will only require 160 watts of power between both switches. This is perfect for a Micro Data Center requiring a light footprint for both physical space and power.

All of Mellanox’s  Spectrum switches utilize the same, best-in-class, Spectrum ASIC, built by Mellanox. They provide the predictable performance required for the real time processing done in Micro Data Centers. In fact, Mellanox Spectrum switches are the only low latency switch on the market for 25GbE and above networking. Moreover, they provide support for GPUDirect and RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) to significantly accelerate analytics and Machine Learning.

The Micro Data Center needs the ability to connect with other data centers. This will typically be a large, centralized data center (including public cloud), as well as other, peer Micro Data Centers. Mellanox Spectrum switches provide best-of-class EVPN and VxLAN support to accomplish just that.

Best-in-class, standards-based Data Center Interconnect solution.

Mellanox Spectrum switches provide significant scale advantages for VxLAN and DCI, which is critical as the number of Micro Data Centers increases. In addition, EVPN is a controller-less technology, which means the entire control plane is embedded in the switches – and Mellanox doesn’t charge extra for additional features. Therefore, you can leverage Mellanox switches for incredibly scalable DCI solutions, and do so incredibly cost-effectively.

Ease of deployment is critical for Micro Data Centers. When dozens or hundreds of Micro Data Centers are deployed or repositioned, automation and zero-touch provisioning is required to support cost-effective deployment. Mellanox supports many options through its NEO network orchestration system and a suite of playbooks for both Cumulus Linux and MLNX-OS network operating systems.

Micro Data Centers are one of the hottest topics now in the world of data center deployment and networking. While the shift to centralized cloud has been significant, there is nothing like having data processed and acted upon as close to the user as possible.

When building a Micro Data Center, the Mellanox Spectrum switches provide the perfect solution:

  • Unique form-factors – half-rack, low power (80 watts) all the way up to full density switches,
  • Predictable Performance – zero packet loss and low latency, accelerating real-time responses to users, at speeds of 10/25/50/100 GbE,
  • Data Center Interconnect – standards-based EVPN/VxLAN support with incredible scale and no additional cost and,
  • Ease of Deployment – NEO network orchestration and NetDevOps playbooks with Cumulus Linux and MLNX-OS.

What a catch! (Haha)

Supporting Resources:


About Bill Webb

Bill Webb is Director of Ethernet Switching – Americas at NVIDIA Networking. In this role, he evangelizes the benefits of NVIDIA’s Mellanox Ethernet switch portfolio in scale-out data center, storage, cloud computing, and AI/accelerated deep learning environments. Bill has spent over 20 years in the networking industry in a variety of sales, engineering, and management roles. Prior to NVIDIA, Bill worked at Concurrent (now Vecima), where he introduced a Ceph-based scale-out storage product for media streaming and at Ciena, where he led a team developing first generation Software Defined Networking applications. Bill started his career at Nortel Networks and then later worked at a several start-ups building fiber-to-the-premise technology.

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