If applications speak in sessions, shouldn’t your router be session smart?

With software, routers can finally break the Rosetta stone of networking and understand the languages applications and services.

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My new iPhone X actually recognizes me! This is an example of Smart Technology.

Most of us are expecting a revolution of products and services that have embedded intelligence or smarts. Medical diagnostic support is being aided by computer intelligence with the goal to improve the physician’s understanding of the patient to improve the diagnosis, therapies and resulting patient outcomes without adding more burden on the clinician. Look at cars – now, autonomous self-driving vehicles have the potential to alleviate congestion and improve the environment in ways we couldn’t imagine.

To perform facial recognition, the iPhone X must understand the language of faces. This includes attributes of faces, such as shape of eyes, noses, cheekbones, and jaw. It’s safe to say that any smart system needs to understand the language of its purpose. Self-driving cars must understand the language of driving which includes maps, roads, signs, speed limits, weather, and traffic signals. Smart medical diagnostics need to understand the language of medicine, including possible diagnosis and probabilities.

What language makes modern data networks smart?

Our current language of networking is fairly primitive. It includes speeds in bits/second, longest prefix match based routes for aggregates of traffic, autonomous system numbers, diff-serv code points, MPLS tags, etc. The system is so poorly understood that we use meteorological terms to describe observed phenomena. Terms like packet storms, avalanche, floods, and flaps are commonly used. We randomly drop packets to prevent standing waves. We require all paths to be equal or they are eliminated all together. The concept of a detection of a networking anomaly as a primary tool of management suggests a very weak language. Could a facial recognizer work solely by detection of anomalies? We’d be also remiss not to highlight that all these factors create a network that’s often too complex, costly, and brittle to deliver everything consumers are demanding (or soon will be). We need to enable new business applications and services while reducing cost, risk, and complexity.

The network’s purpose

Networks exist for the sole purpose of enabling applications and services. There is no other reason to have a network. A single network packet has no value whatsoever. Yet our language of networking today is a language of bits and packets and really not much better than Morse code. The language of an application is the session. A session is a bi-directional exchange of packets defined by a first packet, followed by subsequent packets until the exchange is completed. Every use of the network today is a session. Sessions have attributes (just like faces) that include a start time, a bandwidth rate and limit in both directions, and end time, an observed peak bandwidth, average bandwidth, a human understandable name, a quality of service requirement, certificate analysis/validation, and a list of who is permitted to use the service. This language is already in use by most advanced security and intrusion detection devices.

It’s time to get session smart

Today, we struggle in a tower of network babble. We deal with packets, overlapping addresses, NATs, and networks that do not share information (Private/Public/IPv4/IPv6). We tunnel, we overlay, we over provision, we pray. Rather than our prayers being answered, we have been asked as a profession to support public and private cloud, increase our velocity of change, reduce our costs, and under no circumstances allow any intruders. This is only possible when we find a new language and a new way. Our routers need to get smart. Our routers need to understand the language of services – sessions. We need to route sessions and not packets. Routers need to be smart enough to support unequal pathways, drop exactly the correct packet, and avoid tunnels and inefficiency. Routers need to become Session Smart and speak the language of services.

Session Smart Routing lets the network adapt automatically to the requirements of individual sessions and user segments. Here you get better performance at lower cost by replacing hard-wired tunnels and middleboxes in favor of a software-based routing fabric that has Zero-Trust Security and Centralized Orchestration right out of the box, with session awareness, stateful firewall, and load balancing immersed into the routers themselves.

Let’s innovate

Network Function Virtualization shouldn’t be about reducing the hardware tower of babble to software imitations chained together. Our intent for networking should not be to automate what we have but rather to innovate. The iPhone X facial recognition isn’t an imitation. It’s an innovation.

Software algorithms in every industry has ushered in a wave of unimagined innovation. When we migrate from hardware routing to software routing there will be innovation at the routing layer. With software, routers can finally break the Rosetta stone of networking and understand the languages applications and services.

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Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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