Fiber Optics

Welcome to the New IP Network

Fiber OpticsA short while ago, data center specialist, Brocade, held its annual financial analyst conference. During his keynote, CEO Lloyd Carney, introduced the audience to a concept called the “new IP network”. The concept behind the new IP network is that the network needs to evolve to meet the demands of cloud computing, mobility, and the Internet of Things.

This is a vision I certainly agree with. In fact, for years now, I’ve worked with the thesis that compute transitions have driven network evolution. The first era of computing, mainframes, really didn’t require a network other than directly-connected terminals. The birth of client-server computing gave rise to a number of local area technologies such as Lantastick, AppleTalk, SNA, and Banyan Vines. As LANs grew and WANs become prominent, the network evolved again and IP became the de facto standard protocol to interconnect the islands of LANs. In fact, for you Tolkien fans, consider IP to be the “one protocol to rule them all and in the darkness bind them”.

Today the industry finds itself in the midst of another compute transition. One might think there are actually several transitions going on with the shift to mobile, cloud computing, and IoT, but these all have one thing in common — they’re all network-centric compute models. It’s this transition to network-centric computing that’s driving the evolution to the new IP network. IP is still the one protocol that rules them all, but it needs to evolve to meet the demands of network-centric computing.

Legacy networks were designed for networks that were closed and where “best effort” traffic was the norm. All of a company’s data resided on a server or client that sat behind a corporate firewall, so the closed network meant a high degree of control and predictability. In this case, best effort, or “good enough”, truly was good enough. Today, applications and data can reside anywhere — data center, branch office, cloud service, or mobile endpoint so the nice & predictable, closed network is gone. One of the fundamental principals of the new IP network is that the closed, vertically-integrated solutions must give way to open, standards-based platforms. In the past it was fine for networks to be closed, as the network existed in its own silo. In today’s world of converged infrastructure and software-defined data centers, the network must be open.

Another attribute of the new IP network is that it’s optimized for mobility. Legacy networks were designed for an era where devices, users, and workloads were fixed. Today, everything is mobile and the network needs to also be mobile. This is one of the reasons why there’s so much interest in network functions virtualization (NFV) today. NFV virtualizes network services such as routing, WAN optimization, security, and load balancing. The virtual services can then be spun up, migrated, and taken down automatically bringing them into alignment with other IT resources.

Another aspect of the new IP network is automation. Historically, network configuration and management was done on a box-by-box basis using manual processes. New IP requires centralized management that’s automated and can be driven by business policies. I know automation scares some network managers, but the speed of business is too fast now for manual processes.

I know the topics of SDN, NFV, mobility and automation have been tossed around now for a while. While all of these are interesting in of themselves but when brought together, we’re able to redefine the very nature of the network. Welcome to the new IP.

Image credit: James Stewart (flickr) / CC-BY