• IT’s virtual networking goals are far less lofty than what vendors, analysts, and commentators want you to believe but those goals are no less important.
• Enterprise IT simply isn’t prepared for the breathlessly stated goal of delivering applications on demand in 5 minutes or less.
If you only listened to the selling points behind software defined networking (SDN) and the software defined data center (SDDC), you’d get the picture that enterprise IT is on the cusp of delivering complex enterprise applications at the drop of a hat. You’d think that business line managers are technically savvy enough to define what they need and fill in templates with the correct information.
Sure, I’ve done the demos where in less than an hour I could bring up a Sharepoint instance following a very simple and specific set of steps. Those demos are impressive, don’t get me wrong. I know what’s going on under the hood and I can appreciate the engineering it takes to build the orchestration and integration foundation which deploys an entire application at the click of a mouse. I also know that enterprises don’t need to bring up an application in five minutes without any warning. However, given enough automation, the time to deploy the servers, OSs, storage, and application code has been drastically reduced, which is a benefit for everyone. The only IT group late to the game is the networking team.
The lament that it takes weeks to provision the network for an application is swung like a billy club, showing how the network is holding back business agility. There are valid reasons why deploying the network takes time, but that time can certainly be shortened from weeks to hours or less. If you want to enable new networking processes, vendors have to provide better tools.
Here is what enterprise IT, and in particular, networking IT, wants from virtual and automated networking:
1) Reliable automation that doesn’t surprise them. Networking professionals don’t want to be delighted. They want to know that when they kick off a job, it will work as expected and fail gracefully on error by backing out any changes that were made and returning the network to its previous state.
2) Hardware and software that is fully integrated with their processes and products so that they can maintain the same or better management and operational goals using an automated system versus what they are doing now. Enterprises already have investments in operations software that they will continue to use and the networking software has to work with it or the business case needs to be made that the enterprise needs to find a better system.
3) Better monitoring and troubleshooting tools that specifically assist in evaluating multi-layered, dynamic, and distributed networks. Of course virtual networking is going to add complexity to a smoothly running network. So did VLANs, tunneling protocols, routing protocols, and anything else that altered how networks behaved. Network professionals will adapt, but they need the right tools to do their job.
Satisfy those requirements and network vendors’ customers will become more responsive.