Cloud Networking Era Means Rethinking Network Infrastructure

The embrace of cloud computing and its implications for more dynamic, more easily provisioned data centers aren't just changing the networking technologies companies buy. In fact, they're catalyzing changes to how networks are constructed and applied, with faster, more efficient technologies driving cleaner, more flexible architectures and making total cost of ownership that much more attractive.

Such was the consensus of three market analysts during the COMDEXvirtual session "Preparing for the Next Generation." The extremely fast-paced changes happening in computer networking will have a profound effect on how enterprise business users procure networking technology. And while it isn't all happening today, it's not going to take years, either.

Nick Lippis, CEO of The Lippis Report, highlighted how the density of virtual machines to physical servers right now stands at about 15-to-1, but will soon approach 64-to-1 as enterprises look to get more out of their computing resources. The building blocks of that networking -- particularly Ethernet switching -- will need to keep pace, and Lippis said that about 25 precent of the Ethernet market at present is 10 GbE, with the transition to 40 GbE beginning and 100 GbE not far on the horizon.

All of those changes are "totally changing the traffic profiles and patterns occurring in cloud-based data centers," Lippis said, especially as companies look to converge networking, storage and computing as a way to provision those resources more effectively, and more and more mobile devices come onto the enterprise network.

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Another factor is the increasing acceptance of cloud services, said Marshall Bartoszek, principal analyst, data center, ACG Research. With more ubiquitous usage of cloud-based services like Gmail, cloud providers are looking to increase their influence among IT decision makers.

"The cloud providers are looking to move up the value chain," Bartoszek said. "Everyone's seen the success that Google's had and now traditional managed services providers are looking to move up the food chain and provide cloud-based services. [They're] trying to leverage the competitive advantages they have today."

Bartoszek said what's happening is a "jump ball" in the data center: more and varied vendors targeting enterprise customers' IT spend. At the same time, noted Lippis, the larger data center vendors like HP, Oracle, IBM and Dell buying up networking assets to broaden their "cloud stacks" into networking.

It's a seismic shift for networking as a whole, said Zeus Kerravala, formerly of The Yankee Group and now founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. If cloud is the manifestation of more dynamically deployed, efficiently managed and easily accessed computing resources, it was inevitable that virtualization and cloud would begin to impact the network -- and they're just starting to.

"It's transformed every part of IT," Kerravala said. "It's changed the way software vendors license, it's changed the way servers are built. But as you move down the stack, we're just starting to see the impact on the network now."

Next: The Power Of Network Virtualization

Network transformation via virtualization will come to the fore, the analysts agreed. Software-defined networking and the OpenFlow switching and communications protocol are two examples of how the actual networking technology is changing. The same holds true with VXLAN, which targets how virtual machines move over distances.

The common themes in those new technologies, noted Kerravala, are the same as the technologies that brought virtual computing into vogue from its predecessors in Internet computing, client/serving computing and mainframe computing.

"Each has lowered the cost of computing, increased the value of the network and increased the level of integration between compute and network resources," Kerravala said.

Each also solves limitations of current network infrastructures, which are hampered by a latency-heavy three-tier architecture, the inefficiencies of Spanning Tree Protocol technology, older products that don't easily support virtual and cloud environments and poor management tools.

All of those factors will force enterprises to change how they evaluate networking technologies in the future, he said, not a speeds-and-feeds-based discussion on the number of ports on a switch.

"That kind of stuff is almost table stakes," Kerravala said. "What they need to look at is how many virtual machines can I support, what is the end-to-end latency. You can't evaluate technology on old school metrics."