Fixing the network problem

11 Apr 2014

What is wrong with networks? They are manual. They are cumbersome to provision, and completely out of sync because they’re complex, they’re custom, they’re costly and they’re closed.

That is the view of Nuage Networks president and CEO Sunil Khandekar. At the Cloud Innovation Summit in San Jose last month, which flooded attendees with the minutia of everything cloud, SDN and NFV, he succinctly encapsulated how SDN can fix the network problem.

The real issue, Khandekar said, is we need a complete rethink of how we build, manage and operate networks. The fundamental change, he insisted, is not to look at the network as a product, which we’ve done for decades, but rather look at application delivery as the product.

“If we orient ourselves in thinking of networks and compute and storage in terms of allowing applications to be deployed rapidly, the whole model in how we build and automate these networks completely changes.”

SDN is the technology that underpins that. He says the key attributes of SDN -- abstraction, automation, control and visibility -- are the fundamental principles that will allow networks to become as consumable as compute has become.

Charles Ferland, an SDN executive from IBM, noted that SDN is not really about networking -- it’s about software. “It's about software because we need to have an orchestration tool that looks at networking the same way it looks at how we're deploying workloads and how we're managing storage already.”

Khandekar explained that a software-defined network not only preserves an operator’s existing network investment, it also allows massive automation, which means it can go in and define application templates and assign permissions for different customers.

Ferland noted that there are three paths to SDN: a proprietary path, where the existing infrastructure is opened up and people are allowed to program it; the overlay path, which says don't touch the physical infrastructure, just do everything on the overlay; and the standards and open-source path.

Over the last two years the market and the vendor community have evolved. He said the large enterprises, keen to preserve their infrastructure, are looking at more at overlays with tighter integration.

Nuage’s Khandekar pointed out the one challenge that remains is northbound (the controller up into the application). “The current proposal is all REST API based. Well, there are over 10,000 REST APIs, so which ones do you code to standardize?”

He says that's the last piece of the puzzle, which the industry will come to terms with fairly soon – perhaps this year. “Everything else looks to be in the implementation mode.”

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