Many of the topics and discussions at the recent Open Networking User Group (ONUG) conference emphasized one very important shift in the networking industry: leading IT organizations are moving to a DevOps organizational structure and eliminating the traditional silos of server, storage and networking in favor of cloud centric, cross-functional teams. Moreover, these changes in IT organizational structure are having a significant impact on networking requirements (e.g. adaptability and programmability) and fueling the adoption of open network software.
New IT organizational structures
Driven by the rise of public cloud computing, many leading edge IT organizations have radically changed the way they build new applications. Specifically, they have made software development (and the application) central to their organizational structure and have broken down the traditional silos of compute, storage, networking and applications.
Increasingly DevOps teams are responsible for deploying the applications to meet specific uptime and cost specifications. These teams are responsible for maintaining the ongoing application, managing changing application requirements (scale up or scale down) and making sure the application can continue to run in the event of hardware or software failures. Virtually all of the hyperscale cloud providers (e.g. Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook) have adopted this new model, as have many leading edge Fortune 500 companies (including Fidelity, Tesla Motors, Bloomberg and Citigroup.
Rise of open source networking
The IT industry has been significantly impacted by the rapid adoption of open source software (e.g. Linux and OpenStack) and associated tools that allow IT professionals to rapidly and inexpensively develop new applications. Driven by the advent of SDN, the networking industry now has a wide range of open source software developments running on standard hardware platforms (e.g. x86 servers or Broadcom switches).
The largest IT buyers, including the hyperscale cloud providers, telcos and Fortune 500 companies, have come together by means of organizations such as ONUG to demand that vendors embrace open technologies. The goal of ONUG is to use the collective market power of IT leaders to promote the use and standardization of open networking by providing reference requirements and testing for a number of SDN use cases including WAN, data center and network management. As a result, many vendors who previously saw open source as a threat to their revenue streams are now seeing how they can leverage it to create new opportunities. Additionally, open source initiatives including OpenDaylight, OpenStack, OCP and OPNFV, among others are seeing increased interest and participation.
Networking vendors who have embraced open source software include:
- Startups: Big Switch, Cumulus, Midokura, Pertino, Pica8, PlumGrid, Velo Cloud, Viptela, etc.
- Incumbent networking providers: Arista, Brocade, Cisco, Juniper, F5
- IT providers: IBM, Intel, HP, DELL, Red Hat, VMware
Open networking requirements
So how do the changes in IT organizations (e.g. DevOps) and the rise of open source impact the way networks are built and operated? To start, networks must continue to be highly reliable, deliver increasingly high performance (e.g. 10GB, migrating to 100GB), scale to thousands of links, and provide low latency as required. Networks must efficiently link thousands of VMs or containers within a data center, rapidly move vast amounts of data from data center to data center, and securely link thousands of remote locations/users to the data center, Internet and public cloud.
The key change in network requirements is that they must now also be open standards-based, programmable, agile and adaptive. DevOps teams (not just experienced networking professionals) should be able to quickly and easily design, install and manage networks that meet the specific requirements of their unique application environment. Networks must be compatible with the latest Linux-based based development tools and abandon the clumsy, command line interfaces (CLIs) of the past.
Recommendations for IT leaders
Now is the time to re-examine traditional IT organizational structures and move toward a cloud-oriented, DevOp-based IT model. This transformation will take time, may be challenging, and will clearly impact the way networks are built and managed. Recommendations for IT leaders include:
- Develop your talent internally by creating cross-functional teams.
- Be flexible, processes and applications are likely to change as you gain experience.
- Leverage IT business leader-run organizations such as ONUG and other standards initiatives to help you choose from the plethora of networking standards.
The time is right for SDN to bring together vendors, large buyers and new governance models to provide an open network software framework to drive the industry forward.
Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research, which provides quantitative and qualitative analysis, forecasting and market positioning advice to enterprise, service providers, network and IT industry vendors, and the financial community. Previously, Doyle was group vice president in charge of IDC's Network Infrastructure and Security groups.