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Data networks, the other "ball and chain"

So beyond a reliable, resilient and intelligent network, what's next?

In 1998 I was a bright-eyed product manager, who espoused asynchronous transfer mode as the next best thing in terms of wireless area network (WAN) data networking.

Fifteen years later, after developing IP networks and feeling quite comfortable that I had "nailed it", diagrams like the one below started to land in my in-tray from fancy pants cloud guys:


Excuse me, are you suggesting my network can't keep up with the latest demands of the cloud-based application age?

Unfortunately, I ultimately had to concede that networks had lost pace with the evolution of application delivery and are becoming somewhat of a "ball and chain" to the dynamic ways in which customers wanted to develop, operate and access applications.

Now it would be easy to say "enter software defined networking (SDN) and faithful sidekick network function virtualisation (NFV) to save the day", but although these evolutions are important, I think they may have taken too much air away from the importance of first assessing the problem we are trying to solve so you can identify what process or systems improvement can address the challenge.

Instead of discussing the separation of control and data planes, let's focus on the challenge, which I would argue is increased business agility supported by a flexible application environment. If the blocker to achieving this is the static nature of networks, the need becomes a rapid, auto-scaling and self healing infrastructure. The process improvement is to use programmability and automation to deliver networks in a new, high velocity way.

In simple terms, we are seeing a network evolution something like this:


Of course, SDN and NFV sit below this, but as illustrated in this video , the focus on eliminating manual tasks via automation is central to delivering a more agile networking infrastructure.

In future blogs I will discuss how this focus on automation - underpinned by SDN and NFV - is enabling new network offerings. For now, I want to reference an excellent paper from our Networks Centre of Excellence.

The paper discusses Next Generation Data Centres, highlighting how digital disruption is causing unprecedented challenges for enterprise and government IT departments, and how the data centre fabric is being redefined by SDN and NFV.

Future papers will extend the discussion to include the WAN, but it is best they start in the data centre - the place where the limitations of traditional networking approaches were first exposed.

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