Winter Classic Hockey

Hold Onto Your Stick! Hockey Mirrors Network Nightmares

Winter Classic HockeyAs a native-born Torontonian — think a colder, more polite, but less-humble Texan — I grew up with ice in my veins, or at least ice hockey. So like millions of other Canucks and Yanks, and the 105,000 who actually braved the elements to attend, I spent 4 hours starting off the new year watching the NHL Winter Classic. The hockey game featured the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs playing outside at the University of Michigan’s Big House in 13-degree weather with falling snow so thick the game had to be halted every few minutes just to shovel off the accumulation.

During the frequent interruptions, I couldn’t help but think about how this event seemed to mirror many of the elements currently plaguing network professionals. While the Big House was able to accommodate the 105,000-plus attendees, this temporarily doubled the population of Ann Arbor and caused massive traffic problems, especially once the game finally ended after both overtime and a shootout.

We had a major event, limited time, extreme conditions, and a massive overload of the existing infrastructure. Everything worked out well in the end (at least for Leafs’ fans), but this was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for most involved; for networkers, this is a regularly recurring nightmare.

First, there are all the usual suspects: data traffic that just keeps growing; soaring mobile workers, devices and data; the coming of the machines, i.e. the Internet of Things; the out-of-control Shadow IT; the Big Data avalanche; and the accelerating move to the cloud. Then there are the continuing challenges of network obsolescence.

Then there are the new and emerging challenges like software-defined networks (SDNs) and software defined datacenters (SDDCs) that offer a lot of promise, but are guaranteed to increase complexity and take more time to save the day than will be anticipated. With more than half of North American enterprise data-center servers expected to be virtualized by 2015, this uptake of virtual servers as well as switches will pave the way for SDN, according to a recent survey. Infonetics found that respondents currently have 2% of their ports set aside for SDN, but that will grow to 8% by 2015; in a separate report, Infonetics forecast that the SDN market will hit $3.1 billion by 2017.

The bottom line is that while the future of networking — i.e. SDN, SDDC, faster Ethernet and optical switches — looks bright, it doesn’t make stick handling through today’s network nightmares any easier to tolerate.

Image credit: jpowers65 (flickr) – CC-BY-ND