Enterprise Networks Fast Becoming Obsolete
Is SDN the answer?
Recently I mentioned the growing pressure that evolving technology trends like cloud computing and enterprise mobility are placing on data networks. In short, don't get too comfortable with your current network infrastructure.
Newly released data has put the issue in even starker terms. According to Dimension Data, nearly half of all enterprise networks will be obsolete within five years, as bring-your-own-device (BYOD), digital video and virtualization eat up capacity and resources. And it's a trend that seems to be accelerating rapidly, considering the latest figures represent a 38 percent increase over data collected in 2010. Access routing and switching technology is already dangerously close to the edge, as the company says only 18 percent will be able to handle expected traffic increases due to desktop virtualization and video communications.
The real question in all of this, however, is not whether the network needs to change, but how. The consensus is that the static, monolithic network of the past will give way to a more flexible, dynamic infrastructure that will be better able to repurpose and reinvent itself to accommodate rapidly changing user and data requirements. And this infrastructure will increasingly rely on the public Internet to enable highly scalable architectures. Internet security platform OpenDNS is moving with the times with the new Enterprise Insights platform, which not only provides enhanced malware and intrusion protection but can now be tailored to individual groups, devices or users, providing a customizable security environment that can track threats and provide detailed intelligence across multiple wide area environments.
Indeed, this idea of a data center without walls is becoming increasingly common, as business units and even individual users find it easier and cheaper to tap cloud resources rather than internal IT for their growing data needs. As Ciena's Jim Morin put it recently, 10 GbE may be the name of the game for internal I/O, but SaaS, PaaS and IaaS will become increasingly common as the decade unfolds, quickly overloading the typical 40 Mbps MPLS connection and even advanced 1 Gbps links. Even more bandwidth, though expensive, would help, but a flatter, more intelligent network architecture will likely be necessary at most organizations, one that improves availability and reliability, scales easily and provides hypervisor-driven automation and capacity allocation.
This is partly what software-driven networking (SDN) is all about. Through a purer form of network abstraction than what is commonly known as network virtualization, SDN offers the possibility of building up and tearing down network architectures at a moment's notice, both within the data center and on the cloud. Many of the top networking vendors have embraced the OpenFlow standard that would foster the kind of interoperability needed to support abstract network architectures, but it's a real question whether the enterprise industry as a whole can implement such a dramatic change in network infrastructure in time to handle the kind of data environments that groups like Dimension Data say are right around the corner.
This may sound like a lot of gloom and doom, but the fact is that network technologies, along with everything else in the enterprise, have been growing and evolving right from the start. Ultimately, the IT industry will change only as fast as budgets will allow, and users will have to content themselves with service levels and data environments that are readily available.