Back in 2011, Marc Andressen famously made the statement “software is eating the world.” The network is now on software’s plate. We are seeing software-defined networking and software-defined storage starting to come into the mainstream, joining software-defined servers—or what has traditionally been called “virtualization.” As infrastructure starts to become more amorphous as to virtualized software layers to help drive agility, managing all of the devices underneath becomes even more difficult. Networking companies like A10, Arista Networks, Cisco Systems, Fortinet, Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks are bringing network devices to the market, but they need to be managed, and administrators just want to pull it all together easily, preferably with a single tool.
Management is clearly the biggest challenge that any network professional faces; almost 80% of their time is spent just trying to keep the lights on and systems running. You may think that all of that money your IT department is pumping into its networking budget will be bringing lots of great new features that will let your business zig, while the competitors all zag, but in reality, that money isn’t helping drive better efficiency most of the time, it’s stuck funding the old, traditional, manual processes.
That is where the next domain of software definition is born: Software-defined Network Orchestration, SDNO for short. The genesis of SDNO is that automating the network can help remove the inefficiency and challenges that administrators face. While the people behind the consoles are some of the most intelligent people who you could meet, most of the errors are human. With command line scripts that have to be typed out exactly, odd little nuances for how each device needs to be managed and non-aligning management features, trying to get that stack of cables, boxes and software all humming is no small feat.
What SDNO can do is cut down the amount of time and headcount required to manage the network, enforcing consistency and letting administrators know when things aren’t matching what they should. With SDNO, one can declare what they want the network to be and then manage against that. When you are working on your PC, you click “print document” and the document shows up on the printer a few seconds later. That is declarative. You don’t say “format the document into something the printer can read, get the status of the printer, transmit the document over this port, alert me when it is done.” No, you simply declare “print document,” and it happens. The underlying system hides all of that underlying complexity. If you had to painstakingly write out each step, you’d miss something, and you’d be part of that human error statistic. That is why automation and orchestration are so critical; more than just speeding things up, they reduce steps and make it easier, less error-prone. And more importantly, easier to replicate, over and over.
We anticipate that as more businesses move to the cloud, they are going to need a better handle on their networking. The end user experience hits a very different vector when IT can no longer just throw more bandwidth at the problem because they no longer own everything from end to end. In tomorrow’s world, where as many of a company’s applications are outside of the firewall as inside of it, they’ll care a lot more about latency and efficiency as those parameters will drive end customers’ experience and the company’s bottom line.
Effectively managing the network, regardless of which equipment vendor’s name is on it will become more critical. Leaning on the network vendors to deliver multi-vendor management is not a sound strategy, as it is not their job to make their competitors’ products work better with their own. Instead of businesses looking to all of these different tools, they will start to look at external tools that can orchestrate their overall environment—as one. Glue Networks is one of the first to step into the SDNO ring, branding their Gluware product as an SDNO solution for businesses. We look at Glue Network’s SDNO strategy and offering in our latest paper.
As software starts to slowly eat the network, SDNO will be an important element of keeping that cafeteria line running like a well-oiled machine, because anyone can hand-craft an individual appetizer, but hand crafting won’t scale. The future demands automation and orchestration to stay ahead of the curve because software is getting pretty hungry these days.