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This syndicated post originally appeared at Network World Zeus Kerravala.

As containers become more prevalent, the network needs
to become a set of services that can be orchestrated and
automated. Cumulus’ Host Pack helps make that happen.

About a month ago, someone asked me to define the term “digital transformation.” At first, I thought about giving a long technical definition that mentioned the convergences of people, process and data, but then I shortened to one word — speed.

Digital transformation is all about doing things faster than the competition. This is one of those things that’s easier to say than do. Most businesses simply can’t move faster just because they want to. Instead it requires an entirely new approach to IT. Gartner uses the term “Mode 2,” but other terms are things like agile development or DevOps.

This new approach to IT has brought with it several new technologies, one of which is containers. The use of containers has steadily increased because IT departments can quickly spin them up, do whatever task they need to do and then shut them down. The whole process can be automated, so the IT organization doesn’t even need to be involved.

However, as powerful as containers are, they can create havoc for network managers. It’s hard enough to keep track of virtual resources, so how is a network professional supposed to keep track of something that might exist for only a few minutes? There’s no physical way to apply network or security services to something if you don’t know it exists, know where it is or know how long it will remain. This leads to an increase in the number of network blind spots and increased network complexity, and that can lead to performance problems for the DevOps team.

Creating an agile, dynamic network

Solving this problem requires a new approach to networking where the network itself evolves to be more agile and dynamic. This is similar to the transition the network industry went through when virtualization became mainstream. Developing a product that meets the needs of the containers is significantly different than traditional or virtual networks. Simply taking the virtual workload and pushing it into a container won’t result in things like low memory utilization, lightweight footprint, and fast boot times that are table stakes for containers.

Earlier this week, Cumulus Networks announced a container solution that includes something it calls Host Pack and the ability to run Cumulus’ Linux-based network services from the cloud. Key features of Host Pack include the following:

  • Granular container visibility. Host Pack lets infrastructure and application development teams have visibility of application availability through the most widely adopted container orchestration tools, such as Mesosphere, Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. This can be used to understand the health of container services, track their location, IP addresses and open ports, and debug problems faster. The integration into existing tools is key because people who work with containers do not want yet another management tool.
  • Dynamic network connectivity. Host Pack supports routing protocols such as FRRouting and BGP unnumbered directly on the host and in a layer three network, enabling the Cumulus network fabric to automate the process of discovering containers and distributing the addresses across the network. This makes the performance more predictable and simplifies it because no layer two configuration is required.
  • Common operating system from network to containers. Earlier this month, I wrote about why it is important for network professionals to learn Linux, and this is a perfect example. The Linux operating system that Cumulus uses is the same Linux that is used to operate container environments. This enables administrators to use a common toolset and ensures interoperability while reducing the complexity of having to write scripts to translate between the network and containers.

To support Host Pack, Cumulus has made available a number of “validated design guides” that take all the tweaking and tuning out of running it with containers. Sample design guides include:

  • Advertise Docker Bridge
  • VXLAN with Docker Swarm using Host Pack
  • VXLAN with Docker Swarm using MLAG
  • Advertise container addresses in the routing domain

Developers and network managers that want to try this can use the virtual sandbox created by Cumulus. Host Pack using Cumulus in the Cloud with Mesosphere is available for free.

As containers become more prevalent, the network needs to evolve and become a set of services that can be orchestrated and automated when required. A vertically integrated, monolithic stack is too slow and too cumbersome for nimble container environments. Cumulus Host Pack is the right way to bring networking to containers, as it was designed from the ground up to be agile.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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