2016 Predictions for Networking Evolution

by Nick Lippis 

Last year members of the ONUG Community took front row seats to the emergence of a software-defined Infrastructure ecosystem and its cloudification. In this new software-defined world, the wide area or (SD-WAN) came into focus. ONUG Fall at NYU saw the greatest participation ever of SD-WAN players, as thirteen vendors exhibited an SD-WAN solution. In 2016, the ONUG Community will again have front-row seats to witness the significant changes taking place in the IT industry, particularly in open infrastructure.

1. Automation for Infrastructure

As we move into a more software-defined world, automation will become more sophisticated. Automation of network services will be based on orchestration and will not be haphazard. Rather, what we’re thinking about is a declarative, intent and policy-based construct. You’ll have a policy about how things should be automated, and that will become intent-based depending on application requirements. That intent will get encoded into policy to be executed by a policy engine. So a policy will declare to the infrastructure “Hey, automate these services for this application.” Automation will be #1 in 2016.

2. Network Services Brokers Emerge

For automation to take hold we’ll need some intermediary software; network services brokers provide that function. These software constructs sit between applications and networks and apply orchestration policies. It’s where automation for networking starts to happen. We’ll begin to hear a lot more about network services brokers in 2016 and not just as technology, but as shipping, viable product.

3. The Year of the Open Software-Defined Infrastructure PoC

We spoke a lot at ONUG Fall about the movement to an open software-defined infrastructure (SDI). As Tsvi Gal of Morgan Stanley pointed out in his keynote, we’re not talking about open source, but open SDN, an environment in which interfaces are clearly delineated between the software and the underlying commoditized hardware for network, storage, and compute. We’re going to see an increase in open Proof of Concepts (PoCs) from a lot more companies coming into this ecosystem during 2016.

4. Cloudification Grabs Hold

At the most fundamental level, open SDI is really about taking a hardware-centric view and moving it to a more software-centric view. But the step beyond simply a software-centric view is cloudification. Here we’re talking about stitching together networking functions in the cloud and on-premise. Such an approach will require orchestration, connectivity into public clouds, and more. This year we’ll start to see a larger open ecosystem and increasing discussion around cloudification.

5. Open IT Frameworks Replace Open Projects

For the last couple of years, the industry has focused on open networking largely in the sense of specific components. There’s been open vSwitch (OVS), various open source projects, and open controllers from multiple vendors. All of those are wonderful efforts, and we encourage them to be utilized, tested, and piloted. But there’s a larger shift happening here and that’s around IT frameworks. How do you take all of these projects and commodities and place them into a coherent framework? During 2016, we’re going to see these conversations shift from open projects to more comprehensive open frameworks.

6. Hybrid Clouds Dominate the Industry Narrative

We used to think about private versus public networks and more recently have seen the shift to a hybrid cloud world. This kind of split-architecture will address the needs of numerous applications that won’t move into the public cloud for multiple reasons. But to make hybrid clouds a reality, security concerns and contract language need to be straightened out, and much more. We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what this means; there’s an entire framework that has to be developed for hybrid clouds to take off in the enterprise.

7. Containers Drive Rethinking of Networking

Container environments will change the way we think about networking in data centers. With containers, we’ll see an explosion in the number of IP addresses, and we’ll have to rethink how we handle address assignments. Traffic flows will also change, and we’ll have to reassess where we locate common network services. Then you have the containers that look to the virtual overlay as the underlay. During 2016, we’ll need to start to come to grips with these issues as we move into a containerized world.

8. Campus Networking Gets a Makeover

While branch and data center networking have changed dramatically over the past several years, campus networking infrastructure has remained largely the same. At the same time, though, the campus network has changed in other ways. Everybody is walking around with wireless devices, and WiFi is ubiquitous. The big question for campuses going forward is, “Do we still need all the legacy tiered switching-routing architecture or can we get away with a more scaled down campus design?” During 2016, we’ll start to explore that question.

9. Infrastructure-as-Code Moves Closer to Reality

Vendor business models will fundamentally change in 2016, shifting more towards a software and services model. Some industry insiders have projected that infrastructure will become code, and I totally agree with that proposition. In fact, I think we’ll move much closer to infrastructure-as-code in 2016. But for that to fully happen we need to think through the differences between the lifecycle of hardware-based and software-based infrastructure. If you think about how hardware is procured, for example, it takes a long time between when an order is placed to when the product is acquired. As a result, procurement officers know to bulk up their orders. Networking hardware vendors are, in turn, used to these big, lumpy orders. In a software world, order fulfillment is instantaneous or near-instantaneous; you don’t need to bulk up your orders. As a result, there is a whole different economic model as these other trends take route.

10. Demise of the Hacker Economy

I think in 2016 we’ll start to see the security conversation elevate beyond the security specialist. IT executives will begin to take control of the narrative and focus requirements for network security. Security vendors have developed a range of IT appliances, largely in response to hacker actions. IT executives are focused more on securing their data assets, and that’s different. We’ll see IT executives become more publicly vocal about integrating security fully into IT infrastructure, not in creating yet another product category but a new secure internet and cloud architecture.

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