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Posts Tagged ‘Software-Defined Networking’

The networking industry has certainly gone ga-ga over the topic of software defined networks (SDN). Before SDNs were all the rage, network transformation had already begun with the use of fabrics. The rise of SDNs certainly took the media focus away from fabrics and that caused many vendors to shift their marketing messages as well.

However, one of the vendors that has been fairly consistent with the value of a fabric is data center specialist Brocade, and its strategy seems to be working.

When Lloyd Carney took over as CEO of the company last year, Brocade stopped trying to be all things to all people and focused on the areas where Brocade’s value proposition would resonate most. In fact, in the fall of 2013, I had the chance to meet up with Mr. Carney at the company’s channel event in New Orleans. He told me with no uncertainty that if the company didn’t have a shot of being one of the top three vendors in a market, then it shouldn’t be in that space. During his keynote, he talked at length about fabrics and the value the technology could provide to large data centers and service providers.

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This week, Cisco held its annual Cisco Live Europe Event in Milan. At the show, the company introduced a number of new products, including the Cisco APIC (Application Policy Infrastructure Controller) Enterprise Module that brings the benefits of software defined networks to the WAN and access edge. This announcement follows on the heels of its November launch, where Cisco announced the long-awaited acquisition of Insieme and unveiled the APIC controller for the data center.

The focus on the access edge and WAN is an interesting move for Cisco, as almost the entire SDN market has pointed their guns at the data center. Why? Well the data center has been through a tremendous amount of change. Private cloud, virtualization, NFV, more applications and other trends have made the data center a veritable cornucopia of changes that puts a heavy emphasis on the network. Now the network needs to be more agile, flexible and dynamic. Hence the intense focus from the vendor community.

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This week, traffic visibility solution provider Gigamon announced its Unified Visibility Fabric, which provides Traffic Intelligence to help enterprises and services providers get a better handle on what traffic is flowing across the network. Gigamon has beefed up the application and services layer of its visibility fabric with new applications and features that offer advanced filter capabilities, such as stateful correction, user-level awareness and deep packet visibility. The Traffic Intelligence provides more granular filtering and forwarding to make sure the tools and applications network managers use to manage and secure the network receive only the data that it needs to operate.

Gigamon’s focus is to provide fabric-wide, integrated applications that send the correct data to the correct tools so organizations can optimize the performance of the tools, including network and application performance.

There’s no question that the trends of video, virtualization, software defined networks, BYOD, 40 Gig and 100 Gig have all added significantly more traffic to networks today. The challenge created from the increased volumes of traffic, combined with increased network speeds, is that the management, performance, and security tools customers use can’t capture the volume of data being pushed to it. Think of network traffic having to pass through a tollbooth and when it gets through, it’s directed to the right tool(s). If there’s too much traffic, then the cars get backed up and the things on the other side of the toll plaza won’t operate as well.

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For decades now, Cisco has been the single biggest factor in driving network change. Over the years, the company has been aggressive with VoIP, PoE, MPLS, wireless LAN and most recently converged infrastructure, and has gained a significant early-move advantage. However, when it comes to software-defined networks, I think it’s fair to say that Cisco has lagged in both technology and vision, and has let the likes of VMware, Arista and Big Switch get out in front and carry much of the messaging.

Yesterday though, CEO John Chambers effectively grabbed the throats of many of the smaller, SDN pure-plays, and stated “Where are your rebel friends now?” at the company’s Application Centric Infrastructure event in New York. Specifically, the company, to no surprise, announced at the event that it was acquiring the remained of spin-in Insieme following a similar path to what we saw with Nuova and Andiamo, and went through its Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) vision.

Getting into the details, ACI is certainly a bold vision for the industry. It promises a unified, single point of control and visibility for the management and provisioning of virtual and physical infrastructure. This would mean networking, compute, storage, virtual machines, application services and security all manage a single entity.

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One of the primary value propositions of Software Defined Networks (SDNs) is that it optimizes the performance of the applications that run on networks today. However, almost all of the SDN-related products that have been released to date operate at layer 2/3 which, of course, have no direct relevance to applications. I agree that if there’s congestion or something else impacting performance at those lower layers, applications themselves will be impacted, but for the most part, the world of applications and networks have been managed in independent silos.

To help bridge this gap between applications and networks, many network managers, data center folks and even some application developers have turned to application delivery controllers (ADCs). The ADC speaks both the language of networks and applications and can be thought of as the “Rosetta stone” of IT, and plays a key role in enterprises’ ability to roll out applications rapidly and keep them performing optimally.

However, SDNs have recently turned the networking world upside down. Things that were physical are now software-based and virtual. Networking has a level of dynamism that has never been seen before. This trend has raised the question of what the role of the ADC is in this new virtual, software-driven world.

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