An Open Welcome to Open Networking

by Ahmad Zamer

From cloud computing to the Internet of Things, the global digital economy has created new realities that require new demands and increased scaling for IT and data centers. Thriving in the new world requires adapting to the new realities and quickly. Open networking offers enterprises a path to building cloud data centers that offer competitive advantages and lower operating costs. 

As always, transforming existing environments is challenging and involves a diverse set of issues. This blog looks at few new aspects of open networking that continue to be the subject of conversation among vendors and customers alike.

Openness is the key tenet for building vibrant and sustainable open networking industry ecosystem. Let’s take a look at several aspects of openness that are needed to make cloud data centers succeed.

  • Disaggregated networking – Decoupling the many planes of conventional networking gear (For both the Physical Machine and Virtual Machine: forwarding, control, management and orchestration planes) to free customers from vendor lock-in and give them the choice to build networks that best suit their business needs. This disaggregated, or decoupled model of switches is already preferred by most, if not all of the dominant public cloud vendors and top tier service providers worldwide. Unbundling these systems enables freedom to deploy streamlined solutions that are better suited for cloud data centers.  As the size of data centers increase, these similar components can be managed as groups. Applications in these new data centers have more redundancy and agility reducing the effect of network changes and outages. 
  • Software-defined networking (SDN) – SDN is an industry wide term that has many meanings.  By leveraging software automation of Dev Ops and agile networking, networks are controlled and managed as groups of similar entities via software versus manually managing each switch. After a long time of waiting for SDN to take off, we are finally seeing deployments reach enterprises which are feeling confident about the technology and happy about its benefits. SDN separates the old manual and rigid data centers of the past, from the agile, automated and centrally managed data centers of the future. With SDN, you can transform your network, gaining a network-wide view of your networking resources and manage them from that wider and more efficient perspective.
  • Open APIs – True agility comes when you are able to program your infrastructure. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) give customers the flexibility that they need. A complete set of well documented and extensible APIs are a big step forward giving customers the ability to tailor their networks to their environments. More importantly, extensible APIs open the door for enhancing capabilities as business needs evolve.
  • Programmable ASICs – The fixed features of networking must be the most frustrating aspect when it comes to advancing open networking. Networking Application Specific Integrated circuits (ASICs) have made great progress and offered progressively more rich and mature sets of features. At the same time, they remained very much rigid. The good news is that we now have some programmable ASICs available and switches based on them are available in the market. In order for programmable ASICs to succeed they need the creation of a developer community that requires serious and sustained effort from all interested in open networking, including the ASIC vendors themselves. This is a tall order that creates hopeful signs for the networking industry.
  • Open source networking architecture – the open source community provides a set of systems that are implemented anywhere from extensible frameworks to varieties of working prototypes.  This open source software allows implementers to test and share ideas.  For example: Bringing developers and users more choice with open source network operating systems (NOS) in a community-driven ecosystem fosters innovation and new business opportunities. However the vendors typically still provide complete supported vendor solutions but allow for customers to tailor their acquisitions to their needs.  This allows the rapid adoption of new features with a range of service contracts for customers that prefer either complete vendor supported solutions or more al la carte offerings.  This model also allows vendors to focus on value differentiation from other vendors while maintaining interoperability.  
  • Open networking ecosystem – The history of high-tech is very clear on this point. Successful technologies require a robust ecosystem that drives adoption, accelerate innovation and lower costs. Without a strong ecosystem, open networking will take longer to adopt and may run into the next wave of the networking evolution that will overtake it. Vendors control technology introductions, but customers drive the adoption curve. The adoption of new technologies requires an expanding ecosystem.

Open networking is by far the most significant development for data center networking since its inception. It brings with it the promise of moving networking away from the current state of vendor lock-in and rigidity to a more vendor neutral state where networks are better understood and more adaptable to customers’ business needs. By standardizing on open interfaces to networking the simpler day to day aspects of network operations are automated and de-emphasized. This allows operators to focus on efficiently deploying application loads and managing exceptions.  Customers can then focus on deploying data center applications to deliver new services and value to their customers.   Become an agent of change and progress by joining the open networking community! 

Author bio

Ahmad Zamer

Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Ahmad Zamer is a data center expert with more than 25 years of experience in high tech focusing on server, storage and networking data center technologies. Ahmad is a Sr. Global Product Marketing Manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise focusing on data center networking and open networking technologies. He is a patent holder and a technologist with over 50 published articles and white papers covering data center technologies. He is a public speaker and a co-author of a book on FCoE.

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