May 2012 Archives

Coughing Up In Vegas

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Back from Interop and my 'beloved' Vegas from which I escaped just in time before being air-con'd to death  as my ongoing cough continues to remind me. Is it possible to sue "air"?

I don't know - maybe there are people out there (mainly the people who were "out there") who enjoy the delicious contrast of walking in from 42c temperatures into 15c, time and again, then in reverse, and the joy of being able to hear at least three different sorts of piped music at any one time, the exhilaration for the nostrils of seven or more simultaneous smells, 24 hours a day? Must be me being picky. I like my sound in stereo at least, but all coming from the same source...

Anyway  - reflections on the show itself; easy when there's less smoke and more mirrors AKA taking away the hype. What I found was a trend - that others at the show also confirmed - towards making best of breed "components" again, rather than trying to create a complete gizmo. For example, we had Vineyard Networks creating a DPI engine that it then bolts on to someone's hardware, such as Netronome's dedicated packet processing architecture, that then sits - for example - on an HP or Dell blade server. I like this approach - it's what people were doing in the early '90's; pushing the boundaries, making networking more interesting - more fun even - and simply trying to do something better.

There are simply more companies doing more "stuff" at the moment. Take a recently acquired client of mine who I met out there for the first time, Talari Networks, enabling link aggregation across multiple different service providers - not your average WanOp approach. A full report on the technology has just been posted on the Broadband-Testing website: - so please go check it out. Likewise, a report from Centrix Software on its WorkSpace applications. Reading between the lines on what HP is able to do with its latest and greatest reinvention of networking - Virtual Application Networking or VAN - as we described on this blog last week, along with buddy F5 Networks, I reckon there is just one piece of the proverbial jigsaw missing and that is something that Centrix can most definitely provide with WorkSpace. The whole of VAN is based around accurately profiling user and application behaviour, combining the two - in conjunction with available bandwidth and other resource - to create the ideal workplace on a per user, per application basis at all times, each and every time they log into the network, from wherever that may be.

Now this means that you want the user/application behaviour modelling to be as accurate as possible, so your starting point has to be, to use a technical term much loved by builders, "spot on". Indeed, there is no measurement in the world more accurate than "spot on". While HPs IMC is able to provide some level of user and application usage analysis, I for one know that it cannot get down to the detailed level that Centrix WorkSpace can - identifying when a user loads up an application, whether that application is "active" or not during the open session and when that application is closed down... and that's just for starters. I feel a marriage coming on...


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And Yet More SDN...

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I don't think I can remember a time - and this is saying something - when there were SO many hyper buzz-phrases in IT circulation as there are currently. Every cloud variant, Big Data, SDN...

So it's good for the system, soul and sensibility to get behind the hype and see what vendors are actually offering between the lines. At Interop Vegas yesterday (where the food and wine quality sank to new depths c/o some alleged Mexican resto - and we all know Mexico produces superb wines... I met up with IP Infusion, who have been around for a decade or so but are now attaching themselves to the SDN wave - but in a good way. Basically IP Infusion creates a software based multi-service delivery platform - and always has done. Just that it now has to call it SDN to be fashionable, but all the better that the guys got there years ago. Basically, the technology decouples the control and data plane, the network services from the network OS and hardware, protocol stack and applications - meaning it is very flexible; probably THE key word if we accept the whole cloud scenario. It also gave proof that Open Flow is being deployed; IP Infusion showed a demo with two networks set up with redundant paths; one using (the hateful) Spanning Tree and one using Open Flow - both with live video streaming (i.e. the classic demo!). Not only was the latter more robust but recovery time was less than half that of STA when we induced a failure (by using the high tech methodology of yanking a cable out).

What was interesting with all the vendors I saw yesterday at Interop is that they were all focused on providing one specific element, rather than a "box". Netronome - ultra fast processing hardware; Vineyard Networks, DPI engine to sit on, for example Netronome's hardware, Anue - the glue that sits between the network monitoring/test tools and the stuff what's being tested and makes sure it all gets optimised and automated. So there's definitely a trend going on here that takes us back to best of breed ingredients and the chance to pick n mix.

More from Interop later...

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More Of That Software Defined Networking...

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Live from the home of tack - i.e. Vegas, the Blackpool of the desert but without the classiness...or piers - is the latest bombardment of SDN, er, ness, care of Interop 2012.

Starting with a direct follow-up to my last blog entry - HPs take on SDN, AKA VAN (ok - enough TLAs...) or Virtual Application Networks, the big question was, who was going to drive the VAN since HP doesn't have the whole solution to deliver it? The answer is F5 Networks. So, the idea is to being to deliver a completely optimised, end to end solution on a per user/per application basis by using templates to define every aspect of performance etc. Makes total sense, sounds too good to be true. So, what's the answer - test it of course; watch this space on that one.

Meantime, I'll be reporting in daily from the show - seeing lots of new (to me) vendors who, one way or t'other, are all ticking the SDN/Big Data/Cloud boxes.

It seems to me that we need to get back to basics with SDN so that people actually understand what it is. For example, there's a definite belief among some that it does away with hardware... Nice idea - so we have software that exists in a vacuum that somehow delivers traffic? There also seems to be confusion between different vendors SDN solutions and OpenFlow. For those wot don't know, here's what OpenFlow is - in a classical router or switch, the fast packet forwarding (data path) and the high level routing decisions (control path) occur on the same device. 

An OpenFlow Switch separates these two functions. The data path portion still resides on the switch, while high-level routing decisions are moved to a separate controller, typically a standard server. The OpenFlow Switch and Controller communicate via the OpenFlow protocol, which defines messages, such as packet-received, send-packet-out, modify-forwarding-table, and get-stats.

The data path of an OpenFlow Switch presents a clean flow table abstraction; each flow table entry contains a set of packet fields to match, and an action (such as send-out-port, modify-field, or drop). When an OpenFlow Switch receives a packet it has never seen before, for which it has no matching flow entries, it sends this packet to the controller. The controller then makes a decision on how to handle this packet. It can drop the packet, or it can add a flow entry directing the switch on how to forward similar packets in the future.

In other words it provides one, open-standard methodology of optimising traffic, end-to-end, but it is not a solution in its own right, just a potential part of the action.

Whatever - the interesting theme here is that no one talks about MPLS any longer (well maybe apart from Cisco and Juniper that is) despite it still being THE methodology used to move all our data around the 'net and beyond. There are factions that stand for the WAN optimisation kills MPLS idea. And for good reason - but there's no overnight change here, given the gazillions invested in MPLS networks. It'll be interesting to see what the vendors here make of the situation, at least from a timeline perspective...

Meantime it's showtime, meaning a walk past a beach, complete with wave machine and hundreds of Americans trying to get skin cancer, in order to get to the exhibition halls - this is Vegas, after all.

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