We’re coming up quickly on the fall meeting of the Open Networking User Group, which is a time for many of the members of the financial community to debate the needs of modern networking and provide a roadmap and use case set for networking vendors to follow for in the coming months. ONUG provides what some technology desperately needs – a solution to which it can be applied.
Open Or Something Like It
We’ve already started to see the same kind of non-open solution building that plagued the early network years creeping into some aspects of our new “open” systems. Rather than building on what we consider to be tried-and-true building blocks, we instead come to proprietary solutions that promise “magic” when it comes to configuration and maintenance. Should your network provide the magic? Or is that your job?
Magical is what the network should look like to a user, not to the admins. Think about the networking in cloud providers like AWS and MS Azure. The networking there is a very simple model that hides complexity. The average consumer of AWS services doesn’t need to know the specifics of configuration in the underlay of Amazon’s labyrinth of the cloud. All that matters is traffic goes where it is supposed to go and arrives when it is supposed to be there.
Let’s apply those same kinds of lessons to open networks in our environments. What we need isn’t a magic bullet that makes everything turn into a checkbox or button to do mysterious things behind a curtain. What we really need is an open system that allows us to build a system that can be reduced to boxes and buttons. That requires a kind of interoperation that isn’t present in the first generation of driving networks through software.
This is also one of the concerns present in policy definitions and models like those found in Cisco ACI. In order for these higher-order systems to work efficiently, the majority of the focus needs to be on the definition of actions and the execution of those policies. What can’t occur is a large amount of time spent fixing the interoperation between pieces in the policy underlay.
Think about your current network. Do you spend most of your time focused on the packets flowing between applications? Or are you spending a higher percentage of your time fixing the pathways between those applications? Optimizing the underlay for those flows? Trying to figure out why something isn’t working over here versus why it is working over there?
Networking Needs Eli Whitney
Networking isn’t open the way that it needs to be. It’s as open as manufacturing was before the invention of interchangeable parts. Our systems are cobbled together contraptions of unique parts and systems that collapse when a single piece falls out of place. Instead of fixing the issue and restoring sanity, we are forced to exert extra effort molding the new pieces to function like the old.
Truly open networking isn’t just about the software riding on top of the underlay. It’s about making the interfaces said software interacts with seamless enough to swap parts and pieces and allow the system to continue to function without major disruption. We can’t spend our time tinkering with why the API isn’t accepting instructions or reconfiguring the markup language because the replacement part is a different model number.
When networks are open enough that they work the way that AWS and Azure work without massive interference on our part that will be a truly landmark day. That day will mark the moment when our networks become focused on service delivery instead of component integration. The openness in networking will lead us to stop worrying about it. Not because someone built a magic proprietary system that works now with three other devices and will probably be forgotten in another year. But instead because networking vendors finally discovered that solving problems is much more profitable than creating roadblocks.
I’ve been very proud to take part in ONUG for the past few years. The meetings have given me an entirely new perspective on how networking is viewed by users and consumers. It’s also a great way to get in touch with people who are doing networking in unique environments with exacting needs. ONUG has also helped forward the cause of opening networking by providing a nucleus for users to bring their requirements to the group that needs to hear them most of all.
ONUG can continue to drive networking forward by insisting that future networking developments are open and interoperable at a level that makes hardware inconsequential. No standards body can exert that influence. It comes from user voting with dollars and ONUG represents some deep purse strings.
If you are in the New York area and would like to attend ONUG this November 4th and 5th, you can use the code TFD30 to get 30% off the conference registration cost. And if you tell them that Tom sent you, I might be able to arrange for a nice fruit basket as well.