Tag Archive | software defined networking

The Software defined enterprise isn’t “the future” it’s the “now” (musings from VMworld 2016)

Now landed back in the UK after yet another very impressive VMworld event (3.30am start for a 5.50 flight – ouch!). It has been a whirlwind few days of executive meetings (a number of really fundamental catch ups), extremely concise and well-formed session content from the VMware team (congrats to all) and potentially our best customer event yet (every year we invite a number of our key customers to spend time with us at VMworld – with nearly 200 people at the Computacenter event I think you can say it was a success).

This VMworld may prove to be a watershed event. VMware reinforced the perspective a software defined future is no longer optional but instead the “new normal” – now. The business agility and operational flexibility essential for ongoing success through the current ever changing digital age is forcing enterprise IT environments to “act like code” to deliver services, consistently at warp speed. Common to other VMworld events, the VMware team demonstrated the technology is ready (and it has been for quite a while), but human inertia continues to stall the growth of the software defined enterprise as the very last few points of concern are digested and overcome.

NSX (the VMware advanced software defined networking layer) is moving from the background to a centre stage role in the VMware enterprise transformation strategy. As the digital data transport layer that simplifies and optimises traditional networking, delivers a policy based pathway from private, through hybrid to public cloud and back plus enhances security along the way – NSX may offer VMware one of the real keys to the enterprise kingdom. But this event wasn’t all about networking, major enhancements to core VSphere to make it enterprise robust but cloud ready arrived on mass and the additional light shone on the devops world with greater support for containers, workflow and API driven operations ensured a welcome and steady stream of impressive announcements.

The arrival of such a blur of product updates and developments are timely. I noticed a change in attitude and tone with the mass of attendees at this VMworld cramming into the rooms of the “how” sessions no longer deliberating over “why and when” – I think they are now ready!!

Does this sign post a VMware only world to realise the enterprise software defined IT dream, definitely not with the vendor village of eco system partners and past and present competitors all offering valuable services and solutions to enable effective completion of the software defined jigsaw puzzle. But it is clear VMware are leading the charge as they have been for many years and present a compelling end to end, top to toe story of software led transformational business change.

I think the needle has now shifted and the brave new world of enterprise IT still running on high performance hardware, but defined dynamically by software is now upon us and will deliver the hybrid cloud digital super highway that will propel businesses forward both now and into the future. Job well done VMware, the stage is now set for partner, customer and industry cast members to act.

Until next time

Colin W

Chief Technologist Computacenter UK. Networking, Security and collaboration.

Twitter: @colinwccuk

 

 

There is no “Agile” outcome if the network “isn’t”.

I must start this blog with an apology (sorry) – the grammatical form of the title would have me struck down by my primary school English teacher, however I can find no other way to convey my meaning. “Agile” is the current next big thing and rightly so for many organisations whether development, operations or both. If speed of development (application), accelerated time to market and potentially reduced development costs are the primary aims of the enterprise, “Agile” delivers immense value.

But the euphoria seems to drive a mushroom cloud of activity involving selected internal operational and technology areas, for example servers, storage and compute. It’s clear “Agile” discussions ignite wholesale changes in those common areas, but has been slow to affect others most notably networking & security – and there lies a problem. At present application development teams, IT operations functions and most importantly the line of business teams are proactively gravitating towards each other as the “Agile” train pulls into the station. The cultural, emotional and operational shift required to make “Agile” a reality is now very real with green shoots of benefit now starting to appear.

But I challenge the effectiveness of the current “Agile” momentum due to a major elephant remaining in the room – network readiness. At present I view first hand many organisations with “Agile” transformation a fundamental element of their corporate manifesto but continuing with a network that may be highly reliable and functional but one not lubricating or accelerating the agile journey. Does this instantly fast forward to a software defined networking discussion – my heart says no but finally my head overrules with yes. Software defined networking is NOT networking without hardware – unless everything we know is physics is to be rewritten or eliminated that will never happen. But it is networking optimised by the use of software to increase programmability (and therefore personalisation) and automation (and therefore consistency and efficiency).

The benefit software defined ideals deliver to networking outcomes are many fold but must notably security benefits, speed and consistency of change which in turn makes the network agile. Surely this must signpost a notable change of priority, to shift network transformation further up the business technology priority list to enable tangible business value – if your network is not agile “is the business truly delivering agile operational or workload outcomes”.

Agile development is here to stay and with businesses now operating at warp speed agile is helping to drive organisations into the brave new ever changing world. But a network however stable, ridden with complexity and human latency MUST now change to be the optimum transport of digital change. It’s time to ask your organisation if the network is really making the business agile – if not, now is the time for change.

Computacenter can help.

Until next time

Colin W

Twitter: @colinwccuk

 

Software defined security (SDS) could this be the SDN “killer outcome”

Software defined networking (SDN) continues to be a major customer discussion within both the specialist networking and enterprise datacenter arenas. After bubbling under in the mindshare league well below cloud, virtualisation and mobility for quite a while SDN is starting to move up the ranking. ‎However this is not without a fair degree of murmured discontent.

Enterprises, whilst digesting the technical concepts behind SDN are struggling to understand the most effective SDN solution design approach and focus in on the business problem / outcome resolved by SDN. At the highest most strategic level, there are numerous benefits that can include operation efficiencies, network agility and simplicity to name a few. But however compelling they all are, they currently do not seem compelling enough (unless a convenient infrastructure upgrade requirement is often factored into the SDN discussion). This could be the result of looking at something so hard that the some of the more obvious benefits are overlooked and in the case of SDN one said benefits is certainly security.

Networking in software (prior to SDN) had already found its home in the middle of a hypervisor as part of a virtualised compute environment, with the result some degree of understanding of the use of software in enterprise computing to realise networking outcomes is already known. But with the unrelenting growth of server virtualisation beneath a hypervisor with the resulting change to network traffic flows (much of it remaining within the hypervisor or physical host) a hidden challenge became the norm – securing virtualised workloads. The drive by many towards a virtualised enterprise changes decades of traditional design norms of physical perimeter security device placement with the requirement to reproduce a revised ideal for the virtualised workload world.

Enter software defined security (SDS) included within or as a by-product of an SDN strategy. The ability to micro Security image 2segment virtual workloads using internal virtualised firewalls and controls in software with the reduced need for traffic to flow out of the virtual environment and back to determine the security state is surely a “killer outcome mobilised by SDS or SDN. And before you state it, a secure environment in a virtualised context can be realised today without the use of SDN and software defined security implementation, but SDN makes it much easier, tightly couples it with management and automation frameworks with the result reduced time to value. There are numerous software defined security approaches from standard functionality within specialist SDN overlay networks through to dedicated SDS (software defined security) solutions from specialist vendors with next generation security at the heart. And with enterprises wrestling with the urgent need to secure physical, virtual, hybrid and cloud environments working together as one, a new approach to solving this KEY enterprise IT infrastructure security challenge is surely required.

Software defined security alone isn’t the answer, SDN in isolation isn’t the answer but they are both serious and viable considerations to deliver security outcomes today aligned with problems of tomorrow. To that end, software defined security (SDS) may well be the “killer outcome” that kick starts the SDN change.

Until next time.

Colin W

Twitter: @colinwccuk

 

 

The journey to software defined (something) will never be a destination

The Software defined datacenter (or enterprise) is now the must have discussion topic within the enterprise IT arena. It describes the evolution of IT services and solutions to leverage the power and flexibility of software to drive ever changing business outcomes.

‎But has anything really changed, hasn’t software always supplied the intelligence to hardware, whether it’s microcode on a piece of firmware, software that programs hardware dynamically, a basic operating system or ultimately a front-line application. In a word, Yes – but this time things may be slightly different. Software defined to varying degrees incorporates all of the above but this time with the onus on maximising the intelligence within software (and the speed new or different intelligence can be add in cycles a magnitude quicker than a hardware orientated design) and for many reducing the intelligence within hardware.pic

But as software defined starts to gain real momentum with valid use cases more prevalent, many of the earlier perspectives are shifting. The Holy Grail may not be a world of intelligent software and dumb hardware but smart everything (both hardware and software). The key to real software defined success moving forward, is an IT landscape built via systemic thinking delivering almost living or neural IT.  This infers the need for greater intimacy between software and hardware, real intelligent intimacy that uses intelligence to be “intelligent”.

Picture a modern smartphone – at present one of the best exponents of software and hardware working tightly in sync to deliver an end user experience (or service). Now think again at the real market leaders in the mobile space, emotion aside aren’t they the vendors where software and hardware (and both are highly optimised) operate in such a seamless and simple manner that enhanced agility and productivity become a by-product of it.

Does this challenge and dilute the possibly over hyped dreams of cost reduction and normalisation aligned with the software defined moniker, not really as commoditisation, the increased speed of virtually everything and improved inherent reliability within modern IT elements are resulting in more for less more often. But for software defined to really be the road ALL traverse, the magical amalgam of software and hardware working together with a level of almost human intimacy and intelligence is the journey that will compel the masses to join and accelerate.

Times are changing, changing times.

Until next time

Colin W

Twitter: @colinwccuk

 

Colin Williams is a Networking, UC and Security Chief Technologist for Computacenter. Please note the the content of this blog reflect the personal perspective of Colin Williams and not necessarily the viewpoint of Computacenter UK.

SDN (Software Defined Networking) – “help, hope, hype or all of the above”?

All change” – the new story in town is a “software defined something” story with software defined networking (SDN) top of the hype wave for many. Is now really the time for SDN?

Is SDN an essential networking concept or technological advancement? In reality, “No” due to more than enough tacit and continually evolved operational and technical insight already available to deliver enterprise networks of today. However do the concepts presented by SDN have the potential to deliver real world networking operational and financial benefits by enabling previously unthinkable or challenging networking outcomes, “Yes”. At present the hype is clouding reality and sadly causing a fair disconnect in the minds of networking stakeholders. We observe a common cycle (and not unusual with new technology introduction) with numerous prospects for the SDN story deciding in advance based on the hype and momentum that its essential to them, followed by unsuccessful attempts to translate the new technical highlights into real world justifications for change.

The likelihood of success by adopting this “hype and hope” approach is rare. There are some organisations (few) who may be fortunate to find a short term SDN silver bullet that can be used to validate “why SDN” – but for the masses the path to success must start with a true understanding (really isolated) of the future business needs of the organisation with an appraisal of whether the existing networking footprint can enable it. The current functional networking environment for many is more than adequate and whether delivered by teams of highly qualified engineers or as an outsourced footprint – “works” (and in the main works well). But for many “works” in tomorrow’s business template requires a networking environment with way more facets including flexibility, optimum security, agility, “application intimacy”, ease of change and true integration with other infrastructure environments top of the success criteria. It points to the importance of justifying SDN adoption or evolution based on less “technical me too” advancements but more on the key activities (outcomes) the networking layer must underpin for today and tomorrow with an unemotive appraisal of the new challenges that will be faced.

Now we arrive at an area of controversy & confusion – cost reduction. Many of the earlier value statements surrounding SDN laboured or majored in cost reduction. Yet early indication suggests that is less likely in the short term (due to the need over time to depreciate and decommission key existing networking infrastructure investments). That’s not to say costs cannot be saved – by delivering newer greenfield type environments with SDN fundamentals at the core, a cost conscious footprint can be designed and deployed. However that is currently more challenging with more common networking infrastructure templates based on well funded, stable platforms with well defined operational processes and well formed financial controls. Sending good networking platforms out to pasture for “SDN promises” will prove a somewhat false economy.

SDN is here to stay and the benefits to networking deployment and service delivery will be in time unquestioned. But now is the time to understand how the SDN high notes mentioned by many can deliver real world benefits to real customers based on real use cases. Most compelling is the flexibility a software based networking environment will deliver to cloud or virtualised environments. The potential for “application intimacy” and real world reductions in “human latency” or configuration delays enabled by SDN makes selection of future network infrastructure elements with SDN compatibility a must. And lastly with multiple vendors purveying SDN strategies that maintain loose compatibility with each other but are often best delivered as a single vendor outcome, careful consideration is required before any definitive strategy/product/vendor selections are made.

SDN has made the networking arena interesting and exciting to a degree not seen for many years (possibly not since the change from hubs to switches). It will ensure existing market players innovate and accelerate to remain viable in the future and enable a window of opportunity for new market entrants to lead a charge based on a new world order. Networking will never be the same again.

Until next time

Twitter: @Colinwccuk