Big Networking Vendors Push Application Awareness

For nearly the entire history of the enterprise, the division of labor has run something like this: applications and data are stored, accessed and managed from the server/storage infrastructure, delivered over the network and put to use at the workstation.

Now, it seems that virtualization and the cloud are turning those relationships on their heads, causing more than a little concern among enterprise architects and managers.

One of the ways this is playing out is in the concept of “application awareness.” As described by Information Week’s Ashishi Nadkarni, we’re seeing nothing less than a battle royale between networking and platform providers over who will ultimately control the application stack. Powered by high-speed, low-latency technology and building on virtualization’s ability to decouple applications from underlying hardware, firms like Cisco and Brocade are loading more systems intelligence into their portfolios to give the network greater control over where, when and how applications are used to accomplish tasks. This is about as disruptive as technology gets, he warns, so make sure you tread carefully down this road.

For large multinationals, application-aware networking has a lot to offer, particularly as you look for new ways to leverage the cloud, according to Reliance Globalcom CTO Kamran Sistanizadeh. For one thing, you’ll finally be able to realize the dream of centralized control of branch offices, providing a consistent IT environment around the world. Right now, RG is experimenting with limited rollouts, but as standards for tools like network-to-network interfaces evolve, the cost-effectiveness of AA infrastructures will be too great to ignore.

Application awareness’s chief benefit is alleviating the negative consequences of consolidation and centralization, says InfoVista’s Cyril Doussau da Bazignan. Even with optimization, wide area networks (WANs) are already stretched with increased voice, video and data traffic. AA allows you to better manage bandwidth-heavy apps across the wide area and increase both visibility and performance for advanced services like virtual private networks (VPNs).

All of this will be crucial as the cloud takes on a greater role in the delivery of applications and services, according to Radware CTO Amir Peles. Whether you are an enterprise mounting an internal cloud or a service provider dealing with clients, the fact is that service quality can vary greatly from location to location. AA provides the intelligence to pull applications from network-centric resources to ensure all users receive the same basic quality. You also get a more evenly distributed operating environment, ensuring that loads can be effectively balanced across all available resources.

This kind of transition will not happen overnight, of course. And for every networking firm that says application awareness is a good idea, there is a counterpart in the server/storage world that wants to keep things the way they are (except maybe for HP, which has irons in both fires.)

For the moment, the concept of application awareness seems sound. The main question going forward is how well it can be executed.

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