Don’t do SDN. Quite simply there is nothing to be done as such. If the current industry hype is compelling you to “do SDN” or “get SDN” you may find you already have it (or a version of it). If you are a user of server virtualisation solutions with hypervisors and virtual switches you are already leveraging networking elements defined and delivered by software (but elements the MUST still drive hardware). To extend the discussion further if your organisation uses carrier based services (delivered by one of the major telecoms companies) you are already using network services like MPLS and VPLS that massively leverage elements defined in software to deliver the networking outcome you need (many call this network function virtualisation but this is somewhat semantic).
Therefore are you missing anything now or are you already a customer of the next big thing but were blissfully unaware? Enter that horrible response “Yes and Yes”, modern enterprise customers have embraced software defined networking ideals for quite a while however equally the software defined storyboard has been somewhat invisible to all but those learned technologists employed to design, build and support the platforms in question.
But now those more recent networking elements defined in software and grouped together under the SDN banner, paint a totally different picture even if many of the legacy network infrastructure elements are retained. The brave new defined world of SDN is all about open standards (preventing vendor lock in), accelerated innovation (by using open source ideals), potential for cost reduction (due to the hardware abstraction or any network hardware vendor ideology), true network agility (massively reducing time to market of applications and new business services) and most compelling of all, application awareness (to ensure applications control the network not vice versa).
It means that striving to “do SDN” makes little sense unless you are clear on the business outcome aligned aspects that are essential to realise. With that in mind the “big tip” is to understand the SDN or network virtualisation elements that can deliver tangible value against a realistic operational plan. This must be the primary action for now, not an unchecked move to a new platform based on a features biased evaluation.
To that end now is the time to evaluate how ready your current networking platform (and security footprint) that underpins your business is to deliver the speed, agility and dynamism your business requires. And maybe is not a valid response. By understanding and leveraging the most viable elements of traditional networking approaches, interfaced with validated software defined and network virtualisation outcomes, the best of both worlds has the potential to deliver the best in the world outcome for your organisation. The new dawn of the software defined IT enterprise will potentially be your best dawn ever……
Big claims maybe – try me !
Until next time
A quick look at the current popular enterprise networking infrastructure platforms and they all seem to suffer from a similar predicament – almost without exception the functionality is good, reliability levels are high and performance (in relevant terms) delivers against expectations.
The reasons for this rather stable state include a networking journey to date that embraced the pain of interoperability and standardisation many years ago, the common use of high performance off the shelf network processing asics (with a few notable vendor exceptions) and until recently no real need to change the status quo.
After numerous years of highly effective network solution design by the extensively trained and highly talented network engineers, that embraced inherent technology limitations and extracted maximum performance we now have our “good enough” networks. I reiterate that there are many great network engineers that underpin the largest enterprises in the world, make complex networking “just work” and deliver business outcome after outcome – helping in many cases to hide that fact that below the surface all is not as well as it may seem.
But surely, if you were given a blank sheet of paper and networking / security designs were architected with a clean view of the vendor landscape plus tomorrows business outcomes as well as today’s, would you still design yesterdays way? If the business outcomes of today and definitely tomorrow differ from the network usage approach of yesteryear surely good enough can’t still be “good enough”.
A five year old network designed and configured for large volumes of direct connected network servers with one Gigabit interfaces surely won’t be good enough for a densely consolidated converged infrastructure requiring multiple ten Gigabit network interfaces. Equally a multi layer network topology originally configured for hundreds and potentially thousands of physical servers, with multiple physical network interfaces has very different operational and performance characteristics to a distributed switch, hypervisor virtualised network layer.
The stage is set for good enough (or worse) networks to be evolved in line with tomorrow’s application and business requirements. Software defined networks (SDN) underpinned by the open standards aligned with OpenFlow and Openstack protocols and frameworks may in time enable the granular levels of flexibility and capability required to personalise today’s “good enough” general purpose networked infrastructure footprint into outcome specific networked topologies. This blog was set to discuss the well crafted Cisco ONE strategy that leverages the value delivered by OpenFlow and Openstack and clearly positions a customer journey that leverages existing technologies interfaced with the emerging software network footprints and equally the highly innovative HP VAN software aligned network play that leverages IMC and IRF tightly woven into those same open network software foundations, to deliver tangible application aligned networking.
But both of those great stories may now be somewhat pale when compared to VMware shock acquisition of Nicira. Put simply the worlds dominant x86 hypervisor vendor now includes a highly regarded SDN networking core that can be leveraged in numerous and as yet unannounced ways that could potentially paint a new picture for enterprise networking. (save this for another blog).
So “Good enough networks” in the not too distant future may become a thing of the past. Will they ever be “perfect networks”, unlikely due to the ever changing nature of business and increasing levels of complexity, but could they become much closer aligned with the levels of flexibility and adaptability and cost effectiveness currently sought by enteprise network customers. “Quite possibly”…….
And then they will be more than “Good enough”.
Until next time