Networking & Communications

Software is Taking a Bite Out of Networking

Over the last decade, the convergence of cloud, virtualization and software has revolutionized IT infrastructure, giving rise to entirely new business models and re-sculpting the industry playing field. All the while, networking sat quietly along the sidelines. Not anymore.

In August 2011, Marc Andreessen wrote a seminal article titled “software is eating the world” and cited numerous examples of software-driven services, including Netflix and Skype, which are disrupting long-established markets held captive by hardware dependencies. It’s not just software that’s sparking this streak of reinvention – it’s the combination of cloud, advanced microprocessor architectures, virtualization, mobility and rapidly approaching internet ubiquity. These same forces are setting the stage for software to take a bite out of business networking, which has historically been hardware-intensive.

Why Change, Why Now

Today, we’re on the cusp of the third era in modern networking – the cloud era. In the first era, networks were an extension of proprietary computing architectures and provided little more than connectivity between clusters of terminals. Ancillary services, such as security, visibility, optimization and policy enforcement, were under mainframe control. The evolution to LANs and distributed computing, networks became more autonomous. As LANs were interconnected across private IP networks and the internet, network services emerged at the edge as hardware appliances or endpoint software. This second era of hardware-defined networking remains prevalent today.

Welcome to The Cloud Era of Networking

The use of cloud-based services and cloud computing, in both public and private form, is becoming pervasive in businesses of all sizes. Moreover, workforces are becoming increasingly mobile and the number of post-PC devices, namely smartphones and tablets, has eclipsed the installed base of PCs. These technological and societal trends are crossing streams, putting pressure on traditional networks to become more agile, dynamic, and borderless. In short, becoming more cloud-like.

Just as IP networks ushered in the current generation of networking, virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN) will herald the next. Virtualization and SDN technologies infuse networks with cloud-like capabilities of agility, elasticity, and real-time adaptability. Together, they enable networks to be spun-up, spun-down, migrated, reconfigured, and repurposed on the fly—all through software. And, the benefits of network virtualization and SDN are no longer confined to the data center. A new generation of innovative next generation networking companies are demonstrating that SDN-powered, cloud-based virtual networks can overlay the internet and traditional WAN infrastructure in the same way cloud computing uses virtual machines to abstract-away underlying computing platforms. The result? Organizations can now create seamless, end-to-end networks in minutes that connect people and devices everywhere with behind-the-firewall and cloud-based IT resources anywhere.

Virtualization of Network Services

Over the last several decades, modern networking has evolved into an ecosystem of connectivity and services that together ensure networks are secure, performing, and compliant. However, as networks become virtualized and software-driven, network services will be forced to follow suit.

The rise of the virtual machine provided a logical path for the first wave of virtualizing network services: converting physical appliances to virtual appliances. While virtual appliances reduce some of the cost and complexity of deploying hardware, especially in scalable and fault-tolerant configurations, it does not move the bar forward in terms of agility, elasticity, and adaptability. Virtual appliances suffer from the same limitations as physical ones when integrating with virtual and SDN-powered networks.

Recognizing the dissonance between next generation networks and the current state of network services, the European Telecommunications Standard Institute (ETSI) has developed an industry specification on Network Function Virtualization (NFV). The motivation behind NFV is to define an industry framework for effectively transitioning traditional network services in cloud and carrier data center infrastructures (e.g. firewalls, application delivery controllers, session border controllers) to a cloud and virtual computing model. NFV goes beyond mere appliance virtualization to define how network services are instantiated, authenticated, orchestrated, and automated within next generation networks. By leveraging cloud-computing technologies to provision and manage network services, organizations can realize cloud-like economic and operational benefits. While NFV is not dependent on SDN, its benefits are greatly enhanced by SDN topologies.

The market forecasts for SDN and NFV underscore the significance of the new cloud era in networking. IDC forecasts the SDN market to be  $3.7 billion by 2016, while Doyle Research foresees that the NFV market will gain momentum in 2014 and reach $5 billion by 2018.

NFV promises to significantly reduce the capital and operating costs of managing farms of mission-specific hardware appliances, especially within carrier infrastructures. However, it suffers from several issues inherent to its physical appliance lineage. First, the legacy appliance “stack”, consisting of discrete data handling, function logic, configuration and policy elements, remains unchanged. Since every NFV instance has its own stack, there’s really no economy of scale from an OPEX perspective. Each new NFV instance requires a repetition of network, function and policy configuration as well as determining where it fits in the “service chain” with other instances. Additionally, the NFV concept is predicated on the idea that traffic is brought to the service, not the other way around. This results in a certain level of traffic backhauling reminiscent of the way enterprises today backhaul internet-bound traffic from remote branches and users to a central location in order to pass it through firewall, VPN, and other security appliances.

Cloud-based Network Service Virtualization

Once the conversation about the virtualization of network services leaves the data center, everything changes. Pertino, a leading cloud networking provider, has pioneered a service-based approach to NFV for wide-area networks (WANs). Pertino’s Network Service Virtualization (NSV) technology is tightly integrated within the company’s SDN-powered cloud platform and is designed to virtualize network services that traditionally reside on WAN-edge appliances and endpoint devices, such as mobile VPN, malware detection, WAN optimization, monitoring probes, and device-level firewalls.

Similar to NFV, NSV eliminates hardware appliances through virtualization, but differs significantly in implementation. NSV leverages SDN to segregate the function logic, which runs at a data plane services layer within the cloud network platform, from configuration and policy, which integrates with the controller. The controller contains omnipotent and unified knowledge of network topology, configuration, and user policy. This results in a highly portable network function library that can be instantiated in real-time and moved to where user traffic originates, rather than moving user traffic to a centralized function, as is the case with NFV. When compared to NFV, NSV implements multiple service functions on a single data plane interface, eliminates duplicative policy configurations, reduces service chaining to an internal message bus operation, and dramatically reduces backhauling.

From a customer perspective, services can be instantly deployed on a cloud network. Since the services are identity-based, they automatically follow users anywhere they go and on any device they use. For example, if a user flies from San Francisco to London, their services automatically follow them and re-instantiate on a cloud network data plane closest to London. This ensures optimal protection and performance for all user traffic and eliminates backhaul for web browsing.

The new cloud era of networking—catalyzed by the cloud, virtualization and software—promises to be the biggest advancement since the internet, enabling disruptive new models and disrupting the vendor supremacy. If Andreessen’s theory holds true, software will be taking a huge bite out of networking.


Todd Krautkremer is VP of Marketing at Pertino


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Todd Krautkremer

As VP of Marketing, Pertino marks Todd Krautkremer’s fifth startup. Experience includes Packeteer VP of Worldwide Marketing, Gearworks CEO and Red Lambda COO as well as AT&T and Siemens. He thrives on building new market opportunities and speaks networking, security, SaaS, cloud, mobile, Big Data, carriers, and a little Russian.

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