Embedded Network Applications: Friend or Foe?

M. Spanbauer
M. Spanbauer

Summary Bullets:

  • Many vendors offer embedded application platforms within either WAN or LAN equipment (or both), touting performance benefits.
  • Customer adoption remains tepid, however, and many often opt for appliances or servers/virtual machines due to convenience or familiarity.

Nearly every major networking vendor provides an application platform with which either their partners or customers themselves may embed applications.  These platforms can come in several forms, such as HP’s ONE module, which resides in a switch; Cisco’s UCS Express, a router/switch application services device; or Arista’s new 7124SX switch, to name just a few.  Potential benefits include, for example, improved packet processing performance, faster application response times, and deployment simplicity.  Whether it is a lightweight application such as a DNS or DHCP server, or something more robust such as Exchange or a call management suite, these emerging application platforms appear to be gaining steam in the market.  Vendors say their customers find ease of use, tight integration, and performance/responsiveness top the list of benefits, though operational simplicity and (perhaps more important) network team control help.  This last element is one of the most notable, as it demonstrates the divide that remains and inhibits enterprise growth into a more aggressive cloud adoption curve.  The storage, server, application, and network teams often remain separate functions; therefore, appropriation of resources to their peer groups can oftentimes be slow.  However, these quasi ‘network appliances’ give the network team back the keys to a server resource, yet administration and control remain within their domain.

I have been an advocate of a cloud function within enterprise IT for a while, which is a separate practice within the enterprise IT office and reports directly to the CIO.  This cloud team would function in a director role of sorts over all four sub-disciplines.  This by no means demeans or marginalizes their respective value; however, cloud resource allocation is far too tiresome and complex to negotiate, often requiring hours or days (or weeks in some cases). 

These network-embedded appliances offer some respite and extend the capabilities of the respective switch or router.  Arista has even taken this concept one step further for the bleeding edge of high-frequency trading solutions, with both the application capabilities of its new FPGA embedded platform (7124SX) and an optional model with a nuclear clock chip, which provides some freedom for trading exchanges (think highly accurate time stamping).   

As cloud adoption cycles shorten and network dependence increases, these application platforms will see more new use cases.  Ultimately, they may mean the difference between failure and success in some deployments.

What do you think?

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