Is your network ready for digital transformation?

If your company has more than one location, you know the complexity that’s involved in maintaining the network. You probably have several connected devices in each branch office, along with firewalls, Wi-Fi routers and perhaps VoIP equipment. Each patch, firmware update or new malware signature needs to be installed manually, necessitating a service call. The more locations you have, the bigger the cost and the greater the delay.

This is the state of technology at most distributed organizations these days, but it won’t scale well for the future. Some 50 billion new connected smart devices are expected to come online over the next three years, according to Cisco. This so-called “Internet of things” (IoT) revolution will demand a complete rethinking of network infrastructure.

Networks of the future must flexibly provision and manage bandwidth to accommodate a wide variety of usage scenarios. They must be also be manageable from a central point. Functionality that’s currently locked up in hardware devices must move into software. Security will become part of the network fabric, rather than distributed to edge devices. Software updates will be automatic.

Cisco calls this vision “Digital Network Architecture” (DNA). It’s a software-driven approach enabled by intelligent networks, automation and smart devices. By virtualizing many functions that are now provided by physical hardware, your IT organization can gain unparalleled visibility and control over every part of their network.

For example, you can replace hardware firewalls with a single socket connection. Your network administrators can get a complete view of every edge device, and your security operations staff can use analytics to identify and isolate anomalies. New phones, computers or other devices can be discovered automatically and appropriate permissions and policies enforced centrally. Wi-Fi networks, which are one of the most common entry points for cyber attackers, can be secured and monitored as a unit.

One of the most critical advantages of DNA is flexible bandwidth allocation. Many organizations today provision bandwidth on a worst-case scenario basis, resulting in excess network capacity that sits idle much for the time. In a fully software defined scenario, bandwidth is allocated only as needed, so a branch office that’s experiencing a lull doesn’t steal resources from a busy one. Virtualized server resources can also be allocated in the same way, improving utilization and reducing waste.

IoT will demand unprecedented levels of network flexibility. Some edge devices – such as point-of-sale terminals – will require high-speed connections that carry quick bursts of information for tasks such as credit card validation. Others, like security cameras, need to transmit much larger files but have greater tolerance for delay. Using a policy-based DNA approach, priorities can be set to ensure that each device gets the resources it needs.

Getting to DNA isn’t an overnight process. Nearly every new product Cisco is bringing to the market is DNA-enabled. As you retire older equipment, you can move to a fully virtualized, software-defined environment in stages. In some cases, you may find that the soft costs of managing a large distributed network – such as travel, staff time and lost productivity – already justify a switch. Whatever the case, ESI has the advisory and implementation expertise to help you make the best decision.

SDN- The mystery uncovered – part 1

As I continue to attend conferences and sessions with many of our core partners, I continue on my quest for data centre innovation. Most recently I visited the sunny coast of the Bay Area to visit Brocade Communications, Hitachi Data Systems and VMware specifically the NSX division. This is part one of a three part overview of the technology offering.

Within my role “Office of the CTO” I am always exploring new trends and innovation in designs and solutions for our clients, in particular how “software defined everything” becomes a part of our clients’ data centre evolution. For many years we have been speaking about the cloud and its adoption in main stream IT. We have new technologies appear and some just take a new face. Today, I would like to explore the concept of Software Defined Data Centers (SDDC) or in this case specially Software Defined Networks (SDN), with an overview of some of the most interesting solutions on the market.

Like many of you I have experienced the virtualization becoming more and more common of the compute platform. It just seems like yesterday that my manager at the time asked me to assist in SAN connectivity with Microsoft version 1 of Virtual machine management! Today we are experiencing the continued evolution of virtualization. Server and storage virtualization are common place within the data centre. We are seeing Canadian companies 100% virtualized within the compute space. These same companies are looking for the next step in consolidation, agility and cost containment. That next step is network virtualization. But what is SDN? Software defined networking (SDN) is a model for network control, based on the idea that network traffic flow can be made programmable at scale, thus enabling new dynamic models for traffic management.

SDN imageSource of above photo:  https://www.opennetworking.org/sdn-resources/sdn-definition

VMware NSX – a product purchased by VMware to add to their virtual network strategy. The product is sound and provides a close coupling with VMware and the networking and security of East/West traffic within a VM. The NSX Data and management plane provides an excellent framework to allow the SME hypervisor to lock down the VM traffic, and virtual properties such as a vRouter, vVPN, vLoad Balancer, all of which work within the VM construct.
Brocade Vyatta – A technology acquired by Brocade 2 years ago. Today we see the vRouter and Vyatta OpenDaylight controller lead the pack. Brocade has v5400 and v5600 additions of the predefined Vyatta OpenFlow controller. The Vyatta implementation provides vRouter, vFirewall, vVPN and has also developed a vADX load balancer as well.
Cisco ACI or Nexus 9000L – Cisco announced in 2014 the spin-in of the ‎Insieme product to provide an ACI (Application Centric Infrastructure) platform. The first release was a 40 Gb Ethernet switch with no real ACI functionality. Today we see the product with enhanced port/policy control strategy using the Cloupia Spin-in Technology (UCS Director) policy based engines to control the various functions within an ACI architecture.

‎The real mystery of software defined networking starts with the basic understanding of a business need for a “programmable network” based on X86 architecture within the virtualization layer. In the next installment I will breakdown the VMware NSX and what ESI is exploring with this leading edge SDN contributor.

Nicholas Laine, Director Solutions Architect – Office of the CTO