It’s going to be a radically different enterprise network in a few short years, even if only half of the ideas currently being bandied about for the cloud, virtualized world of Big Data and the Internet of Things comes true.
One of the most radical concepts is app-centric networking. Though not exactly new, it's gaining more clarity as the worlds of enterprise data, mobile computing and advanced virtualized infrastructure start to converge.
At VMworld this week, Martin Casado, GM of networking and security, laid out a brave new world in which applications will start to assume greater control of the network environment almost as a matter of course. The key challenge going forward, he said, is that static networks will no longer be able to provide adequate performance or protection for apps and data. They will simply be incapable of keeping up with the constantly shifting nature of virtual infrastructure. The only way to deal with the fluid state of configuration management and encryption across the multiple layers of connectivity that modern apps require is to let the apps handle it themselves.
Naturally, this will have to extend into the storage network as well, says Sanjeev Desai, head of global product marketing at VMware. In an infrastructure-centric environment, storage is pre-confirmed and static, and only a certain number of virtual machines can be assigned to a particular LUN. By going app-centric with products like VVol, storage policies can be applied to the VM from the start, so apps can define their own storage needs. This does away with complex LUN and volume management. In addition, over-provisioning can be scaled down dramatically, and policies can be updated easily as application needs or the data environment itself changes over time.
Greater application functionality has long been at the heart of Cisco’s networking strategy. A key pillar of that is integrating the wired and wireless networks that organizations depend on. The company recently teamed up with Apple to create a “fast lane” for iOS across Cisco networks, according to Computerworld’s Jonny Evans, enabling knowledge workers to work more effectively across the enterprise data footprint. At the same time, Cisco developers will be able to work up more advanced digital business processes, intelligent network services and other value-adds that would ultimately port more of the enterprise workload to iOS. As Evans puts it, this extends Apple's reach past the enterprise proper, deep into the enterprise network.
This level of network functionality may sound like something for the next generation of infrastructure, but in truth it can be applied to legacy environments as well. Solarflare’s new Flareon adapters are designed for customizable, app-centric architectures using software called AppFlex. As ENP’s Jude Chao explains, the platform allows operators to launch on-board apps remotely on a server-by-server basis while at the same time providing user-facing APIs for network management and provisioning. In this way, networks are made more customizable by the applications themselves, rather than as barriers to performance and flexibility.
It’s hard to imagine a self-functioning, self-governing app-centric networking environment without thinking of all the integration and optimization issues that will undoubtedly spring up as it scales from the test bed to production environments. Without doubt, there is a certain amount of whitewashing going on as far as the theoretical capabilities of app-centrism vs. the practical realities goes, but it is also true that, as with any scientific endeavor, success is rarely total.
Right now, the enterprise needs to quickly get proficient with the fundamentals of the app-centric network, because it won’t be long before the advanced capabilities are ready to go.
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