IDC: Cloud, mobility exposing limitations of existing networks

Software defined networking could be the answer

LAS VEGAS -- The combination of highly virtualized environments inside enterprise networks, along with an explosion of mobile traffic, are exposing the limitations of existing networks, and driving the need for a new era of dynamic and scalable networks of the future, IDC researchers said in a panel discussion at Interop this week.

"Cloud and mobility are the two key paradigm shifts when it comes to enterprise IT networks," says Rohit Mehra, IDC VP of network infrastructure. "[The network] was static and reliable, and it met the needs of IT. That needs to change now. Why does it need to change? Because of the explosion of traffic."

[ MORE INTEROP: Commodity hardware will be the hallmark of SDN networks ]

There are a variety of factors that have led to traditional networks becoming increasingly incompatible to serve the needs of enterprises today.

-More devices (mobile)

Mobile traffic is flooding enterprise data centers at the edge. In 2010, 45% of enterprise workers brought their own devices into the workplace; today, more than two-thirds of workers are accessing their enterprise network from their personal devices, IDC says. It's not uncommon for individual enterprise workers to have three to four devices; IDC predicts there will be 30 billion "connected" devices by 2020, both wired and wireless. Meanwhile, users expect mobile connectivity to be ubiquitous.

-More applications (video)

Video traffic created by applications like YouTube, combined with social and collaborative services like video conferencing, are contributing tremendous amount of capacity on to networks. The rise of big data, with a need to quickly get large amounts of different types of data across the network for it to be analyzed, puts pressure on the network too.

-More on-demand access (cloud)

The rise of cloud computing has created expectations of the network being always-on and always available, especially for cloud-based resources. These include compute and storage services at the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) layer and applications being hosted in the cloud at the software as a service (SaaS) layer, such as Salesforce.com. Inside data centers, enterprises are warming to the idea of embracing the cloud. An IDC survey found that 68% of spending is on in-house traditional IT this year, but in two years that is expected to drop to 62%, with increased spending in public cloud, off-premises private cloud and internal private cloud, all of which require always-on access. East-west, or server-to-server traffic, along with virtual machine mobility, and the rise of multi-tenancy in cloud are straining traditional internal network designs. Vendors are moving beyond 10 gigabit per second Ethernet switches, and into 40 and 100 GbE now to support it.

All these issues combined together have "exposed the limitations of the network, which tend to be more inflexible," says Brad Casemore, IDC research director for data center networks. The emerging technology aimed to help solve these problems is software defined networking (SDN), which at the most basic level means decoupling the control and forwarding planes of the network, allowing it to be more dynamically scalable.

"SDN is a network approach that's arisen to support the needs to cloud computing, virtualization and multi-tenancy," Casemore says. "Workloads have changed - there is more virtual traffic, which has necessitated the need for a lot more flexibility in the data center." Still though, it's in the early days. The earliest adopters have been cloud service providers and massive web-scale companies, such as Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Rackspace.

Various vendors are taking different approaches to offering SDN products and services. Some are creating SDN-enabled switches, routers and network equipment. Others are taking a software approach that would allow the network to be virtualized through central controllers.

Companies like HP, Dell, IBM, Cisco and Oracle are taking approaches to provide an integrated system of both hardware and software for enabling SDN, which would include both servers, storage, networking and management control planes.

Others are taking a more software-focused approach, allowing for commodity or low-cost hardware devices to be controlled by software systems. VMware, Microsoft and IBM are working in this area as well. (Note IBM is working in both camps.)

Then, there are other vendors providing higher-level network services that are necessary (security, firewalls, load balancing). Finally, there is a nascent but emerging industry around professional services, such as organizations for deploying SDN systems and supporting them post-adoption.

"We wouldn't have even been having these conversations three years ago," Mehra says. "Three years from now we'll be able to look back to get an idea of how disruptive this has all been."

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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