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BLOG: Datacentre networking: The awkward teenage years

Andre Kindness | Feb. 20, 2013
There are fantastic products available but the offerings remain immature

Forrester has just completed a comprehensive analysis of datacentre networking solutions from Alcatel-LucentArista NetworksAvayaBrocade Communication SystemsCisco SystemsExtreme NetworksHewlett-Packardand Juniper Networks. Instead of comparing just the vendors' features and functions and positioning them accordingly, we took an outside-in approach. We stepped into the customer's shoes and crafted 85 questions based on the needs of a composite company. This composite is representative of the kind of companies we talk to every day. In fact, this customer perspective came from Forrester's customer inquiry calls, network assessments, and large-scale business surveys.

Forrester created an RFP based on an infrastructure and operations (I&O) organisation that's: 1) facing decreasing IT budget; 2) wanting to evolve their operations team from technology silos into a service organisation; and 3) looking to transform their datacentres from a consolidated infrastructure to a private cloud. They need a system that reconfigures elements on the fly and monitors the output to ensure that the newly created services adhere to business policies and rules - a concept we call virtual network infrastructure (VNI). Forrester defined VNI in 2011 as the ability to accomplish five tasks:

  1. Leverage virtualised and physical infrastructure.
  2. Act as a vertically integrated Layer 2 to Layer 7 module within the infrastructure.
  3. Create a fabric of horizontally interwoven networking components.
  4. Automate and orchestrate the infrastructure to deliver the right services for each user (AKA SDN/programmability).
  5. Allow management and control by lines of business.

This composite company requires the system to:

  1. Scale while building out their three datacentres; 
  2. Reduce the amount of manual setup and operations; 
  3. Help to standardise processes and procedures; 
  4. Share the infrastructure for workloads; and 
  5. Increase the trust levels. We've outlined these requirements separately and refer them to as the five S's

Forrester 19-2.png

After combing through customer stories, technical documents, and vendor responses, Forrester found that, even though the proposed solutions offer tremendous value, today's datacentre networking solutions are immature. They've just hit their "teen years" and exhibit teenager characteristics:

-Continuously re-identify themselves. At one time, datacentre networking characteristics were one-dimensional, focused on flattening the network. Now the conversation has expanded to include the integration of virtualised and physical infrastructure while creating a fabric of horizontally interwoven networking components. However, customers will be hard-pressed to find a consistent definition from each vendor that hasn't evolved over the past two years. And guess what? They're likely to change it several more times in the next three years.

-Require adult supervision. No matter how many software-defined networking (SDN) slides are shown, network automation is limited to reacting to VM movement. The systems monitor one boundary condition when the system should be monitoring thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of instances (virtual and physical ports/links/switches, applications, policies, etc.). Networking teams should expect continuous babysitting. They'll be manually configuring the devices and adjusting knobs to figure out the bandwidth allocation, QoS settings, buffering settings, etc.


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