The networking world has always had a tendency to get carried away with new trends and technologies.
Many of these technologies are simply re-inventions with new names, which forget to focus on the basics of efficiently running a corporate network.
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Whether that network now resides in the physical corporate offices, some other datacentre or public/private cloud is largely irrelevant.
What is important is to see the take-up of new, relevant technologies that improve networking beyond where it is today.
Here, we look at a few examples of these technologies.
We also look at what some of the more established suppliers are doing to re-invent their offerings.
Next-generation network monitoring
UK motoring firm the AA is using Data Center Real-User Monitoring (DC RUM), a network performance management system from Dynatrace, to ensure the stability of its network. The product enables the company to passively collect data about the traffic on its network, automatically discovering all applications, servers and clients. This data provides visibility into how users are interacting with the web and enterprise applications used to deliver the AA’s services to its customers. This gives the firm the ability to identify how the performance of the underlying network infrastructure that supports its applications is affecting the overall experience for users, thereby guaranteeing service availability for its customers.
Clouds of virtualisation
One area that – partly as a result of the cloud and virtualisation – has been a focal point is the convergence of networking and storage. While the big names – including Dell, IBM, Cisco, EMC and HP – have all been majorly involved, there has been plenty of activity beyond these incumbents.
Cirba, for instance, has focused on optimising input/output (I/O) with respect to virtualisation management systems and deployment. The supplier argues companies often do not consider I/O when deploying virtual machines (VMs), which can result in uneven loads across physical hosts. When network-attached storage (NAS) or other storage technologies send disk I/O across the network, Cirba models combine I/O to intelligently balance workloads and minimise the stress points that can otherwise occur. The net effect is safely increasing VM density while at the same time minimising the risk of contention for resources.
Another move – again a factor in the cloud–plus–virtualisation combination – is from virtualised (hardware-to-software) systems. For example, Avere has just introduced a virtual NAS product that provides the ability to deploy and scale compute in the cloud while using both on-premise and cloud-based storage resources. The idea is to connect the dots between the compute cloud, storage cloud and on-premise storage, without sacrificing performance, worrying about security or seeing IT overspend. This is a software-only product that runs in the compute cloud alongside applications, providing low-latency access to the active data and enabling applications to run at maximum performance.
Pluribus Networks is another company looking to bring all network and compute elements together, using distributed-network hypervisor operating system Netvisor for the convergence of compute, network, storage and virtualisation. It is based on open-compute and open-networking technologies and is aimed at enabling enterprises to better support application performance service-level agreements (SLAs) while reducing operating expenditure and capital expenditure, as well as accelerating service-deployment velocity.
One of many examples of the current move from IT-centric to customer-focused products comes in the form of Virtual Instruments’ VirtualWisdom4 infrastructure performance management platform for physical, virtual and cloud-computing environments. The technology was recently introduced to the Morrisons supermarket chain.
The retailer’s head of storage, Simon Close, says: "The Virtual Instrument platform has evolved from an engineering-type system to something more customer-focused." Morrisons was keen to consolidate down from a large number of storage suppliers to a single supplier and single SAN environment, with VirtualWisdom plumbed in the middle of it to ensure and assure application and data performance and response times, as well as availability.
Traditional tools go modern
Another transitioning technology is the application delivery controller (ADC). According to CTO of ADC provider jetNexus, Greg Howett, gone are the days when these appliances were all hardware devices, designed to be configured and managed by specialist systems engineers.
"Load balancers are an essential requirement to everyday application stacks such as Microsoft Exchange and Lync, web-based customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, as well as external customer-facing websites. Therefore it’s essential load balancers are easy to deploy, simple to configure and straightforward to manage," he says. Not only is the graphical user interface (GUI) designed for IT administrators to use, but the product sells almost exclusively as a virtual appliance – a pure software appliance.
This switch in terms of moving the network to the users, rather than the engineers, has also been mirrored by Sunrise Software in the latest release of its IT service management (ITSM)application, Sostenuto. Again, the interface is designed for IT administrators – not IT professionals – to use, while fairly radical features (certainly for network management tools) such as gamification have been introduced.
Re-managing the network
The changing shape of the corporate network has also meant a change in the way it is managed, with performance and application management becoming increasingly prevalent. Network management is being re-invented. For instance, Sideband Networks’ XRE/vXRE system for network performance management correlates live traffic with logged network traffic, giving a single point of management – regardless of wired/wireless or local area network (LAN)/wide area network (WAN) characteristics. The system provides analytics of network traffic up to 40Gbps, addressing both physical and virtual planes, and delivers intelligence that notifies with real-time alerts and actions for network issues. So it combines being a dynamic network discovery tool for network mapping with the ability to drill down into the network performance.
Emerging SDN market
Patrick Hubbard, a technical product marketing manager and head geek at Solarwinds, is ideally positioned to view what is really going on. He sees software-defined networking (SDN) as where all the traditional startup venture capital money is, with several companies vying to come out on top in the SDN controller market, with Plexxi and other pure-play SDN companies pushing standards and adoption. At the same time, the major suppliers are funding a variety of spin-ins, such as Cisco’s Insieme, to accelerate innovation that is often difficult for established suppliers. As a result, there’s still lots of bleeding-edge technology and supplier-specific approaches in the market, and a de-facto standard has yet to be chosen by admins on the ground. For network-management software suppliers, the plus point is it will be easy to extend current systems with SDN once standards are determined by the market of actual installations.
Advances in wireless
Wireless is another area of recent innovation – beyond the basic Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) standards implementations. This is with respect to two particular aspects – bring-your-own-device (BYOD) technology and Wi-Fi in the cloud.
The former has meant real wireless, wire-like infrastructures really have had to be put into place. Wi-Fi technology company Xirrus, for example, has an array-based system designed to effectively replace a wired network – after all, a network of iPads and smartphones renders an Ethernet switch redundant. This means the size of Wi-Fi deployments is increasing enormously.
While often it’s the bigger, established suppliers which validate a new (or re-invented) technology area, it’s the smaller, more nimble players which populate it in the first place. We have a number of new players in various market segments – including cloud, virtualisation, application management and others – leading the way in getting actual products out to the user. So, while some of the giants of networking are talking the talk – regarding SDN and cloud, for example – it’s actually the newbies which are more focused on actually delivering the product.