Woven Threads

Free Tool Addresses Networking’s New Challenge: Complexity

Woven ThreadsWe know that network demands are substantially outpacing network budgets, and one contributor to the situation getting completely out of hand is that we are focusing on yesterday’s problems and solutions, not today’s, according to Stu Bailey, CTO and Founder of Infoblox. “We’re at a unique time in the history of the networking industry where complexity is increasingly the barrier, rather than bandwidth.”

He said the IT industry has already seen these kinds of paradigm shifts in compute, and now they’re happening in networking. However, instead of continuing to focus on the tangle of wires and boxes, the industry needs to turn its attention to the relationship of business processes to an increasingly large, dynamic, and shared global IT infrastructure, he said. “The rapid change in network technology — including virtualization, cloud, big data and machine-to-machine communications — make it essential to look at a bigger picture,” said Bailey.

As a step towards addressing this complexity, Infoblox, together with Bailey’s long-time research collaborator, Professor Robert Grossman at the University of Chicago, has developed a formula for complexity that accounts for the number of endpoints on a network and how they interact to perform business functions. Called Tapestry, and available as a free download from FlowForwarding.Org project, this equation-based tool generates a Network Complexity Index (NCI) number based on endpoint interaction data from network-wide control systems such as the Domain Name System (DNS).

By monitoring changes in the NCI over time, organizations can better understand their network’s complexity growth curve and help guide strategic spending on solutions that allow an organization to cope with increasing network complexity. Bailey said we’re at the very early stages of what questions need to be asked about the future of networks. He’s not saying Tapestry is the right question, but he hopes it can help give organizations experience with these emerging technologies and help start the conversation.

“We’re not coming forth with a solution here. This is about collecting data…. in a meaningful way”.

Tapestry will run on a free and open source SDN control plane from FlowForwarding.org called Loom, and will be compatible with multiple SDN white boxes, some of which may be available for as little as $300, said Infoblox. The software is also intended to help IT organizations evaluate the potential benefits and get hands-on experience in moving from hardware-defined networking (HDN) to SDN.

At the heart of the Bailey-Grossman equation is a new definition for networks: a collection of things that interact to perform a service. This expands networking beyond switches, routers and load balancers to a collection of endpoints — the people, data, devices and infrastructure – that all interact in order to make things happen, he said.

The bottom line, he said, is that measuring and managing complexity has the potential to help businesses run highly scalable, adaptable, automated, software-defined networks. “The conversation needs to move in that direction,” said Bailey.

Image credit: WikiMedia Commons