Networking Trends: How IT Organizations Can Benefit?

by Amandeep Singh Dang    Feb 05, 2014


The unpredictable nature of the IT landscape leaves organizations with a lot to worry about their IT infrastructure, especially when it comes to networking. While there is a lot of technology available due to evolution and innovation, choosing the right networking infrastructure that takes into account the future needs of the organisation is important.

Three major trends within the networking space that are currently shaping the industry are convergence, distributed networking and software defined networks. A lot is being said about these technologies as they begin to gain significance in the IT and corporate agenda. CIOs are beginning to develop their networking strategies around these technologies to benefit from new and innovative approaches and fresh and lower-cost options to traditional architectures.

Networking in Converged Infrastructure

Convergence is not wholly a networking issue, but its impact on the way networks are managed and who manages them, should not be underestimated. Previously IT functioned in silos, with server, storage and network admins going about their business relatively independently. When someone within the organization wanted a new resource provisioned, working across these silos to make that happen could be a painful and unnecessarily cumbersome experience. Hence, in the last few years, a new paradigm for an x86 virtual computing infrastructure called converged infrastructure has gained initial acceptance. An ideal converged infrastructure is an integrated system of compute, storage, networking that is managed holistically by a single software tool and provides pools of virtualized resources that can be used to run applications, virtual desktop infrastructure and private clouds.

There are a few key features which true converged infrastructure solutions should offer:

· Modular infrastructure: modular servers, virtual networking, and intelligent, automated storage platforms connected with merged SAN and Ethernet fabrics.

· Converged management: unified infrastructure operations for infrastructure teams using simple and intuitive tools for repetitive, common tasks.

·Delivery models: flexible means for customers to deploy converged systems, ranging from fully pre-integrated systems to a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach.

· Full reference architectures: flexible blueprints to deploy enterprise applications, VDI, and private cloud solutions.

Where there is some disagreement is around who ‘owns’ the converged infrastructure. Most networking vendors understandably want to keep control in the hands of network administrators, or at least approach the issue from a very networking-centric perspective. These solutions will allow a network administrators to manage servers, but not necessarily vice versa.

A truly converged solution should offer both options – server administrators should be able to manage the network, while network professionals should have access to the server infrastructure. Flexible tools at the switching layer can offer this ability to be configured to fit a networking based domain or put control in the hands of server admins. Again, this openness is key to delivering the flexibility required by the business.

More control with Software defined networking

Although the technology is still in its infancy, software defined networking (SDN) is widely touted to revolutionise network infrastructures on the same scale as virtualization in the server market. Traditional networking has been unable to offer the flexibility that networking managers require today – there is little to no ability for developers to modify or transform networking devices to provide deep integration between applications and the network infrastructure. Networking switches have always worked by routing data using the CPU built into the networking hardware, which has meant that IT staff have had relatively little control over the flow of data across a network.

The emergence of SDN has provided IT administrators with a controller which is decoupled from the switch from which they can harness and shape data traffic flows without having to manually configure individual networking pieces of hardware. Administrators can take control over entire networks of switches from this single control plane providing a flexible virtual network architecture that can keep pace with modern IT demands. This provides a far more pragmatic approach to network management which eliminates hours of manual routing and managing policy, whilst providing the ability to respond far more quickly to business demands.

SDN is relatively new as a concept, but the benefits are well speculated – networking managers anticipate far diminished reliance on expensive proprietary networking switches and routers as SDNs can be configured on less expensive hardware.

Moving from traditional to distributed architectures

Several developments have rendered the traditional centralised, monolithic chassis-switched network unfit for the modern business’ requirements. Firstly, the workforce has become extremely disperse and mobile. Secondly, virtualization and cloud computing have resulted in much higher server-to-server traffic flow than before. Finally, enterprises now have vastly larger volumes of data to process, store, and analyze than was previously the case.

Monolithic networks are simply not architected to efficiently handle this new type of dispersed ‘horizontal’ traffic. Traditional networks are designed to handle linear ‘north-south’ traffic in and out of the datacentre. Scaling up these networks is a costly and painful process – adding switches from one vendor until all the slots are filled and then performing a potentially disruptive rip-and-replace forklift upgrade. Core switches are the heartbeat of the network, so enterprises have invariably ended up being locked-in to their switch vendor long-term.

Alternative distributed approaches, which are more easily scalable, are now beginning to hit the market. Compared to the traditional design, the distributed core architecture can be scaled through low-cost Ethernet switches while the architecture improves reliability by eliminating the single network point of failure and providing better performance for any-to-any traffic flow.

However, not all distributed networks are equal and many networking vendors have taken proprietary approaches to building distributed networking equipment, locking customers in just as completely as the monolithic approach. The core may be distributed, but with proprietary standards, protocols and OS’, the network must be managed as a complete entity, without any scope for interoperability. However, an open standards approach to distributed core architectures allows for a much greater degree of flexibility, allowing IT organisations to mix and match components based on their needs and budgetary capabilities.

Keeping a track of the networking trends is a great benchmark with which CIOs can map the future of networking. However, for it to make sense within your organization, you must be willing to adapt the trends to suit your organisational needs. An ideal approach to choose for your networking infrastructure within this climate is one that is open and scalable. The rise of open standards, frameworks and architectures, and a growing realization that proprietary models do not have the customers’ best interest in mind is giving way to new solutions to old and new challenges alike. In the new world of networking, the future is bright, the future is open.

(The author is Country Manager – Networking, Dell India)