Enterprise Networks, They Are a'Changing

Keeping pace with the needs for more flexible and responsive networks will continue to challenge organizations for years to come.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Jul 2, 2012
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If the only true constant in life is change, what does that say about the billions of dollars invested in enterprise network architecture?

Physical network is solid

At the moment, it seems that the physical infrastructure underpinning much of today's virtual and cloud architecture is solid as a rock. After all, the dynamic infrastructure needed to support mobile computing, social networking and all of the other top productivity drivers of the moment are dependent on the physical layer in only the most ephemeral way.

Aside from the need for greater throughput and lower power consumption, it would seem that the basics of enterprise networking will more than adequately support data requirements for the foreseeable future.

Then again, perhaps not.

It wasn't too long ago that corporate intranets and Token Ring technologies were all the rage. This was before the dawn of the Internet and IP, but the fact remains that developments outside the enterprise had far-reaching consequences for the private networks that are supposedly built and maintained to provide state-of-the-art service for the organization. Nowadays, anyone who doesn't have near-universal access to emails, documents, webpages and virtually any other form a digital communication is living in the data stone age.

The thing about change, though, is that it can be gradual, even imperceptible, or sudden and disruptive. And when we're talking about something as revolutionary as the cloud, it can be a little of both. As Avaya GM Marc Randall told the Interop crowd this year, transitioning to the cloud is easy, provided you're willing to do some heavy lifting on things like access, application delivery and network/application coordination. However, painful these tasks may prove to be, they are only minor bruises compared to what will happen if the cloud passes you by.

In one regard at least, enterprises are showing a willingness to roll with the changes from outside forces. As Cisco found out recently, nearly all enterprises have embraced the BYOD movement to some extent despite the architectural and security challenges it represents. It may have something to do with recent estimates that BYOD can produce anywhere from a $300 to $1,300 per employee net gain to the organization. And it isn't exactly bad for Cisco, either, as the company has issued a number of new platforms, such as the Identity Services Engine, designed to help legacy networks bring personal devices into the fold.

Much of this is still tinkering around the edges, however. Is it likely that network infrastructure itself could be on the verge of a radical remake? Quite possibly.

Facebook looking inward for flexibility

Top Facebook officials, already well-versed in customizing their own server and storage infrastructure, are said to be taking a hard look at networking to see how it can be made more responsive to more open, dynamic data environments. Although nothing is set in stone, one of the ideas seems to be reworking current top-of-rack designs to incorporate boot devices and network connectivity overseeing simple CPU and memory resources down below. In essence, the switch would incorporate more server technology and would thus be better able to pool resources across various workloads.

It would be easy to plan out the evolution of enterprise networks so that surprises are few and the benefits are clear. But the fact is that the wider data universe is moving in directions that are not entirely predictable, so network professionals will continue their delicate dance of moving forward while retaining enough flexibility to manage the unexpected.

Oh, and the network that your organization has built with all that capital and manpower over the years? Try not to get too attached to it.

Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.

 

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