How the next major meta trend in networking will reshape businesses

By George Chacko, Principal Systems Engineering and Lead Technical Consultant, Brocade India

The technology industry operates on micro and meta innovation cycles. The micro cycles happen every hour, day, week and year.  But the meta cycle is about twenty years.  Every twenty years there is a massive and fundamental disruption that changes not just our industry, but ripples through every other business and industry to change the way we work, live and play.  And we are entering the next meta cycle.

Getting started in the Data Center
In an environment of escalating business demands and expectations of end users,  organizations have started using private clouds, public clouds or a hybrid solution, to move data and workloads among them.  They will need something programmable to support this rapid innovation.  And costs need to come down, ideally paying as they use technology and get real value.

So what’s the architecture of a New IP network and how do they get there?

Network functions virtualization (NFV) offers a new way to design deploy and manage networking services.  It’s designed to consolidate and deliver the networking components needed to support a fully virtualized infrastructure – including virtual servers, storage, and even other networks. .  IT reduces capex, in some cases by 90%, and opex, and increases their ability to spin up and down resources as they need them. NFV quickly scales up or down services to address changing demands; supports innovation by enabling services to be delivered via software on any industry-standard server hardware. The application doesn’t need to leave the server, and as a result they reduce the north/south traffic, and its costs.   It reduces the time to deploy new networking services to support changing business requirements.  It also increases security with a virtual firewall security layer attached right to each application, and it moves with the application as it moves around their infrastructure.

Customers also need SDN, which provide the tools to manage and control network services and infrastructure, whether it’s been virtualised or not.  Open Day Light is an opensource SDN solution that provides granular visibility and control over network functions.  It allows your customer to visualize, control, provision, and manage their resources.   It also allows the network to see and respond to traffic flows and dynamically adjust, such as in the case of a denial of service attack or elephant flows..  Any service in the network that they’ve created, physically or virtually, can be controlled by one SDN controller in a fully programmable way.  They can standardize data modules using YANG and NetConf, and use REST APIs to mix and match vendors in their network.

But the network is only one important part of their infrastructure.  There is compute and storage too.   And that’s where orchestration comes in.  OpenStack, an opensource protocol for the orchestration layer, can provide the same benefits of ODL at the network layer across compute, data and network.  In addition, because customers are likely to have a multi-cloud environment (private and public) they have to make the clouds work together in a predictable, scalable and manageable way.  And openstack orchestration provides that ability, allowing their orchestration to stretch across their full environment.

This is all the cool stuff.

It’s what’s called the ‘overlay’.   But if they have an overlay, they need an ‘underlay’ to go with it.

They have to be able to forward the packets.  Fabrics are the most often-recommended underlay architecture, specified by companies like VMWare, Cisco and Brocade to name a few.  Today’s rigid architecture in most data centre networks…hierarchical and topologically dependent….won’t allow you to take advantage of the agility of the virtual constructs of NFV and SDN.  That’s why fabrics are so critical, and why so many analysts recommend them too.

Why use a fabric underlay?  You need an infrastructure that is flexible, scales up and out, and adapts to handle instantaneous changes in traffic flows, flow sizes, packet sizes and protocols.   In fact, customers will need this even before their move to the rest of the New IP architecture.

Fabrics deliver New IP value today, into the current network, by creating a giant sandbox in which the virtual applications are optimized for virtual deployment because applications are now modular and distributed. Fabric networks are automated, virtual network architectures that replace the old point-to-point physical architectures of the past. Fabric networks are more agile and less complex than traditional point-to-point networks. They can increase the speed to deploy for new applications and services so integrating new channels, workflows, and engagement solutions is faster. The network traffic can flow ‘east-west’ saving money and time compared with traffic that flows ‘north-south’ due to rigid topologies. The automation of fabrics reduces opex, increases performance and availability, and sets a stage for NFV and SDN migration.

And what about security?

Security must be pervasive and behavioral-based.  You need a programmable network to take advantage of the state of the art security capabilities available in the new IP ecosystem.  For example, a customer may need to create virtual DMZs when the network, or the security layer, perceives inappropriate action.  Since fabrics minimise the number of hops and automate otherwise manual functions, they increase the inherent security in a network. The combined advantages of SDN and NFV are the driving force behind the transformation of the networking industry.  NFV and SDN make services mobile, and allow firewalls and other services to be deployed with and tied to the application.  This delivers fine grained security that’s ubiquitous and mobile.   The result is a network that can adapt to security requirements in real time.  Hyper optimized, by individual session

The 5 must have’s with any fabric 

1. True Democracy:   This means every switch is equal  to every other switch.   The architecture is flat, without hierarchy, so that there is no single point of failure.  This results in a flat layer 2 or 3 surface that is a self forming and self healing network.  All paths are equal and available, and devices of different capacity and design can be mixed together.

2.Distributed Intelligence:  Every port that is present in network is aware of each other. And if a port is lost, the workload is moved to an available port, so you don’t degrade availability. A fabric should be able to abstract this information and thus give you the choice to move workloads at your will.

3. Native Automation:  Fabrics should be built from the ground up for automation, Native automation delivers near perfect load balancing throughout the mesh, at layer one.  You don’t need additional devices or manual configuration. Native automation is critical to get New IP benefits from the network underlay, for scale, availability and performance without human intervention and lost time.

4. Absolute persistence:  Fabric networks increase visibility into application performance, leading to better utilization and efficiency within the network and improved reporting. Fabric will help to optimize and maximise the flow of traffic. The fabric will react in real time and it works like the internet, and the network can shut down until the problem is fixed by IT department.

5. Fast:  This means no compromise between scale and latency.  Fabrics take the most efficient path, automatically and combine hardware performance with software programmability.

A customer’s data is their most precious asset, which is growing exponentially, and applications are only as effective as the data they source.  But today we consume an unprecedented variety of data through an unprecedented number of applications.  And the best way to hook them together in an efficient, scalable and reliable way is through the mediation of a fabric.  While virtualization is the underlying technology that enables the cloud, fabric technology is its most crucial component, but it won’t come easy and it won’t be one-size-fits-all.  It’s the foundation of the New IP, and it unlocks value and creates freedom even in the current network, with or without the additional benefits of NFV or SDN.

The New IP is a modern network, built on your time, and your terms.

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