Providers Face Intelligent Networks’ Vendor Ecosystem: How to Jury-Rig an Orchestra?

B. Washburn
B. Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • The elements of intelligent networking include end-to-end visibility and dynamic control over the cloud, applications, and bandwidth.
  • A smart network will automatically adjust and re-configure itself to meet changing demands.
  • These intelligent network components support a diversity of vendors that aren’t coordinated with each other.

Earlier in July, colleague Joel Stradling and I collaborated on a free Current Analysis webinar titled “2012: The Year of the Intelligent Network.”  An hour-long presentation with Q&A seems just enough time to scratch the surface of this broad and deep topic.  The presentation prompted several interesting discussions, and it’s an area where we will continue to monitor, analyze, and predict the market’s trajectory.

It’s easy enough to define what an intelligent network should be, at a high level.  It should have end-to-end visibility that extends to individual applications.  This should be coupled with dynamic controls to supply each application with the bandwidth, performance, and resources it needs – from the customer point of demarcation, across the WAN, and throughout the data center cloud.  Coming at it from the bottom up, there are at least a half dozen service areas today that are ingredients for the intelligent network.  These include:

  • WAN optimization;
  • Network/cloud coordination;
  • End-to-end visibility, performance guarantees; and
  • Dynamic bandwidth (a.k.a. bandwidth on demand).

Anyone who follows the major global competitors will quickly come to realize this list is addressed today by a largely uncoordinated patchwork of point solutions.  Take, for example, managed CPE router service.  Such a service may use a combination of ICMP pings, SNMP access, and/or Cisco IP SLA functionality to collect data and present information.  Some providers also support Cisco IOS NetFlow (and/or its Juniper equivalent, JFlow) as an option.  Clients that want to think outside the (router) box can usually get managed Visual Network Systems, or possibly EXFO Brix CPE probes for deeper layers of monitoring and service assurance.  Alternatively, several international carriers have turned to their networks to deliver these functions, tapping Alcatel-Lucent routers and switches that support its Application Assured Networking feature set.

Meanwhile, service providers turn to the likes of VMware to align their cloud resources and look to data center switch manufacturers such as Brocade and Extreme Networks for dynamic network allocation in the data center.  Carriers have turned to their provider edge switches for bandwidth on demand.  The WAN optimization space has Riverbed and Citrix among its stronger suppliers, which are coming at this market segment from yet another perspective.  Where end-to-end Layer 2 Ethernet management has been deployed, there are still other vendors and other specs.

The orchestration of these sets of gear deployed across networks, data centers, and customer sites – before even considering the prospect of a multiplicity of access networks – raises a supreme challenge.  Concepts such as software-defined networking (SDN), initiatives such as OpenFlow, and similar efforts by specific vendors point to a possible future for pulling the components together.  Cisco does have a presence across many of the segments, and it could bid to collapse and absorb functions such as WAN optimization and Ethernet smart demarcation into its networking gear over time.  It would shed at least some of the potential box buildup at the point of demarcation.

No one is in a position to pull the elements together quickly.  At the same time, however, economics and customer demand should continue to push providers toward more dynamic, more flexible, better coordinated solutions, delivered ‘as-a-service.’

What do you think?

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