New Challenges Accompany the Abstract Network

The enterprise is looking forward to the new data paradigm that comes with software-defined networking (SDN), one in which all the headaches of infrastructure management get buried under layers of abstraction and automation. But as we’ve seen too often in the past, new technologies have a way of introducing their own set of challenges even as they solve the problems of the moment.

So before the enterprise becomes fully steeped in SDN, it might help to take a look at some of the new issues that will likely arise — as well as some of the ones that will continue to bedevil administrators even after software has eaten the network.

For one thing, SDN will not erase the need to think about hardware ever again. On the most fundamental physical layer, the processor, organizations will still face the problems that arise from inconsistent development of semiconductor components, says Marvell’s Yaniv Kopelman. In a recent interview with Data Center Journal, he notes that even as infrastructure becomes more modular, devices governing ports, power and capacity are evolving at different rates. A key issue is the fact that core logic governing input and output processing remains out of sync, which means any device that seeks to integrate these two functions will be limited by the slower rate. Ultimately, this inhibits the development of interchangeable, modular hardware and the software architectures it supports.

Higher up the stack, organizations will still have to contend with configuration issues, service-level performance, system monitoring and a host of other management tasks, even after they have deployed full software-defined data center (SDDC) architectures. According to SolarWinds’ Joe Kim, network administrators will likely have to learn new management frameworks like DART and SOAR to incorporate new methods of discovery, security and troubleshooting across abstract data environments. And in all likelihood, the idea of simple network monitoring is likely to give way to a more integrated approach that views server, storage and application-layer constructs as a single entity.

Of course, none of this will be possible without adequate visibility, says Ixia’s Bhaskar Agastya. Speaking to PCQuest, Agastya pointed out that visibility is no longer a simple tool used to track network or application performance. In the abstract world, visibility incorporates functions like data collection and aggregation, which in turn fuels advanced monitoring and analytics. It is also a crucial component of evolving security architectures that must penetrate network blind spots caused by encryption and cloud migrations. In this regard, the old rule of thumb remains: if you can’t see it, you can’t secure it.

The enterprise will also be challenged by the fact that abstract networking will push past the data center walls and even past the cloud all the way to the Internet of Things (IoT) edge. This means it will have to exert control in one form or another over infrastructure owned by someone else. If the goal is to produce what InterDigital Vice President Alan Calrton calls the “holistic edge,” the enterprise will have to surmount a wide range of latency, connectivity and regulatory hurdles in order to craft integrated architectures over distributed resource sets on both wired and wireless infrastructure. Research organizations like the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) are working on the multiple facets of this endeavor, including the development of the “multi-access edge” (MEC), although it is unclear how thorough its proposed solutions will be.

It seems, then, that even abstraction cannot overrule the old adage about the more things change, the more they stay the same. While we can still dream of a fully autonomous, hands-free network environment on the operational side, that level of functionality is not possible without in-depth management and oversight.

The network of the future will present its fair share of challenges, and it will require smart people to overcome them.

Arthur Cole is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering enterprise IT, telecommunications and other high-tech industries.

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