Getting Organisations On-Track For Software-Defined IT
By Sean Ong, Country Manager, Brocade Malaysia
Growing network connections and the steadily rising influx of data, have put greater demands on organisations’ network infrastructures. Many enterprises are now preparing for network modernisation, driven by the need to be more agile, responsive, competitive and cost effective.
To truly modernise, organisations must holistically move to the New IP – a user-driven, software-centric, virtualized infrastructure based on open standards and offering low operational expenditure (OpEx).
Some are already on their way, but to truly know if they are headed in the right direction, a five-point checklist can be used for assessment:
Standards: Proprietary or Open?
The New IP is fueled by open-sourced initiatives such as OpenDaylight and OpenStack, designed to support Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and cloud adoption.
Legacy networks continue to be more expensive and cumbersome with age, but the cost-savings potential of open standards in networking is widely known. A survey commissioned by the consortium behind the OpenDaylight Project, found many agreed that open-source software represents greater choice, interoperability and lower costs. Selecting vendors that follow open standards brings an added advantage: spurring innovation.
Therefore, one of the first things IT leaders should consider while undertaking network modernisation, is whether the network will be open-sourced and multi-vendor.
The Future of Networking Hardware is in Software
The network is in many way the last frontier for IT infrastructure innovation. Designed to work with virtualised environments, technologies such as Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) enable organisations to more efficiently utilise the benefits of cloud and mobile technologies.
SDN helps make networks manageable for IT administrators through automation and programmability, and can be automatically reconfigured to address increasing traffic flows and other network changes. Accelerated Ethernet fabric-based hardware that delivers high utilisation, performance and resiliency will continue to play a dominant role for years to come in the IP network.
Therefore, organisations should ensure the selected hardware will enable them to move to SDN as they transition to the New IP, and develop the transition plan to an SDN environment.
IT Spending: On upfront costs and maintenance, or innovation?
The majority of organisations’ IT budgets are often tied up in supporting legacy infrastructure, with not much left for innovation. However, the New IP revolutionises IT spending, replacing high CapEx and OpEx spend with utility-based costs determined by the user, not the vendor.
“As-a-service” models eliminate the need to invest in hardware upfront and allow organisations to align IT infrastructure capacity and network demand. The scalability and flexibility lets them increase or decrease the network capacity they pay for as needs change. This lets them better manage and balance CapEx and OpEx spend.
Hence, the New IP-based network infrastructure brings a long-term lifespan compared to the planned obsolescence of a legacy network, which can help direct IT spending to innovation instead of maintenance. As organisations shift IT infrastructure to the New IP, they can reduce costs while increasing network capabilities.
Shifting Control to the Organisation
History has illustrated that when a vendor gains control, the customer loses control of their CapEx, Opex and innovation. There is only one source for products, solutions, architecture and technology, and the vendor is free to dictate all those on behalf of the organisation.
Vendors gain control through vendor lock-in and proprietary technologies. That was the age of mainframes, when computing was monolithic. It is not just hardware supplied by a single vendor, but also the Operating System, applications, storage, memory and even cabling.
The cost of computing fell and pace of innovation rose dramatically during the client-server period as computing becomes “disaggregated” and companies were free to buy PCs or Servers. software and applications from any vendor.
Yet today, networking is still very much vendor lock-in as innovation has not progressed much beyond some new protocols and bigger, higher-density boxes over the last two decades. There may be hundreds of Requests for Comments (RFCs) and IEEE standards to ensure interoperability, but overwhelming complexity drives organisations to source from a single vendor.
Companies and businesses should regain control from vendors with the New IP platform bringing potential with technologies like SDN and NFV. Networking software components should be able to run on any hardware, and support open-sourced, open APIs and open standards.
Is There a Place for Networking Hardware?
As long as virtual machines need to run on physical servers–which need physical connectivity–networking hardware will certainly still be needed. In fact, the physical underlay plays a critical role, as the best of network virtualization will fail if the physical network breaks.
However, in the face of network virtualization, the physical network must exhibit higher reliability, greater automation in the network device itself, be able to respond to automation tools and SDN solutions, and provide greater intelligence to the software layer on top.
Gartner recently developed a report positioning Ethernet fabrics as the solution to the challenges of data centre physical networks. Ethernet Fabrices form the foundation for a virtualized data center but not all fabrics are created equal, so it pays to evaluate if they have the features needed to work and integrate with network virtualization technologies.