Smart networks are a worthy investment

Two industry insiders debate whether users are better off with smart or dumb networks.

Investments in smart networks quickly pay dividends across the company because the network is the single element that touches all the components of IT infrastructure. An intelligent network makes everything it touches more valuable.


The other side - Aventail's Evan Kaplan

Face-off Forum

What do you think about smart networks?


Investing in built-in intelligent network features rather than bolt-on point products generates big returns on two fronts. First, you gain valuable capabilities to improve your business processes. Second, you reap vast economies of scale through network-wide IT resource sharing and virtualization.

The new capabilities derive from having functions embedded in the network that can intercommunicate and trigger desirable actions. Only by integrating functions into a holistic system that breaks down the barriers between isolated layers of the IT infrastructure can your IT system function in a way that is greater than the sum of its parts.

For example, application-layer intelligence enables business-activity monitoring that provides visibility into the processing of all transaction elements. A network with built-in application fluency can reconstruct a business object, parse its individual fields, and then log it, route it, transform it, or enforce business or security policy.

This ability to couple applications and network infrastructures will be fundamental as companies move to service-oriented architectures . For instance, a credit-monitoring process could be easily integrated with a purchase order processing function so that changes in a company's credit rating could immediately initiate a change in purchase order approval - without having to modify existing application software.

When information-sharing, security, application and policy functions can be embedded in the network, a wide-ranging ROI follows. Whereas a dollar spent on a server buys only server resources, a dollar invested in the network for server virtualization, for example, buys more efficient server resources plus more efficient storage resources, lower application integration costs and lower IT operating costs. Server virtualization in the network enables a server switch to decompose integrated servers into resource pools of CPU, memory, I/O and storage. These resources then can be recomposed into virtual servers, thus allocating the right resources to each business function.

This capability is dynamic; a server failure or temperature alarm could trigger the network to take a server offline, reload a standby server in another rack with the correct image from the SAN, reconfigure the load balancer and bring this replacement virtual server back online.

Single-resource investments benefit a single aspect of the IT infrastructure, while a network-based investment benefits the whole. Intelligent features will make their way incrementally into corporate networks. As a strategic direction, though, companies should recognize that their network is their most flexible and extensible IT asset. It makes sense to hone it as the platform that will have the most profound affect on business processes.

Redford is vice president of product and technology marketing at Cisco. He can be reached at rredford@cisco.com.

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