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When does Networking upshift to continuous acceleration?

Charles Stucki
By Charles Stucki | 11.19.18 | No Comments

Acceleration as a way of life…

28 years ago, I engaged my first technology client at McKinsey. Back then, great companies had a career track for newly minted talent. Today, serial adventures in startup incubation and acceleration have replaced career tracks. Economies around the world are pouring more and more human and financial capital into innovating in all kinds of digital technologies. (Check out Station F in Paris as an example.)

Fundamental changes in infrastructure, data, and application architectures have been constant over these three decades: from client-server, to the Web, to opensource, to mobile and apps, to the cloud, to video-everywhere, and now onto big-data powered AI/ML and IOT.  

Accelerating digital transformation and rapidly advancing insights into customer behavior in the face of unprecedented business model disruption and global competition are forcing businesses of all types and sizes to look at how they continuously add and enhance applications that put innovation into practice.

Whether they develop them, acquire them as packages, or access them as SaaS offerings, forward-leaning enterprises are adopting DevOps principles and leveraging cloud native technologies to enhance agility, accelerate time to service, and drive greater efficiency.

…with a glaring exception.

All the incredible innovation in applications, scale-out cloud infrastructure, and lean DevOps practices that are enabling pervasive digitization (7 Seismic Shifts) also highlight that a glaringly lagging participant remains networking.  

The underlying packet transmission elements of networking hardware are advancing steadily based on Moore’s law-related drivers.

But the software-intensive functions in routing and access control are, instead, a source of resistance to accelerating innovation in applications. Other people might call this the network control plane – but that term is as dry as toast, possibly chosen to encourage curious minds to look elsewhere for innovation. Nevertheless, new solutions are arriving.

A large volume of innovation effort…

In fact, today companies face a patchwork of software-enhanced networking offerings. Unfortunately, they remain complex and specialized, inhibiting organizations from achieving their desired simplicity, speed and security. 

We built some solutions with past eras in mind, not to address today’s shrinking application lifecycles, new software and data architectures, zero-trust security, and accelerating adoption of multi-cloud environments. Amid continuous development and continuous change, these networking solutions are like fish out of water.

Software Defined Networks (SDN) can automate configuration of an efficient and secure network. But they are complex to implement – especially when you try to virtually isolate features and tailor settings for individual applications - and not very effective at responding to change, especially in multi-cloud applications, where each cloud has a very different SDN. 

Other solutions are built by application developers who are aware of modern software, but with a single data center or a single cloud provider in mind. To hold the analogy, these solutions are wading into some deep waters given the realities of secure, global deployments.

The new arrival from the application microservices and cloud-native communities, called a Service Mesh, responds very well to applications since every workload essentially gets its own software edge-router (i.e. data proxy.)  But these proxies create a full flat mesh network – tunneling from endpoint to endpoint – requiring teams to add in and script together multiple legacy solutions to achieve production-grade security, routing, and visibility. 

Network Functions-as-a-Service (FaaS) from public cloud providers can provide decent application responsiveness along with strong security. But they are complex to configure such that an application using this approach is deeply locked, Hotel-California style, to that cloud provider. This frustrates enterprises and their customers who are pursuing hybrid IT and multi-cloud strategies.

You can see some illustrations of how these various solutions stack up on application responsiveness compared to multi-cloud routing and security competency in this video on our site.

…brings into focus a next generation of networking that drives acceleration.

What enterprises need is the same development, deployment and operational agility for their networking functions as they are getting from the computing and storage functions for cloud-native applications.

In addition to implementing DevOps-aligned processes and policies, enterprises need technologies that enable collaboration between networking, security and development teams. This technology needs to enable these teams to co-create and co-evolve communications capabilities and safeguards for real-world, highly distributed application deployments.

To do this, teams need a shared code base that they collaborate on just like the application code, and that executes professional-grade networking and security functions for and in full sync with an application. This application centric approach is the means to really achieving the long-promised application-intent-based networking in a model that can play in the continuous acceleration game.

In blog posts to come, my colleagues and I at Bayware will share more about the technical challenges facing companies as they push to embrace a more agile, multi-cloud environment and the intriguing opportunities for accelerating networking in an accelerating digital world.