Beware the networking industrial complex

How new approaches are disrupting networking and how service providers can adjust their capabilities to support those.

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There is a status quo in the networking industry that is the enemy of innovation. The major hardware equipment makers collectively benefit by propagating the many layers of equipment and protocols. This “deep state” that exists within our innovation economy must be defeated to unleash the next wave of innovative networking, which will be software-based and ideally designed to support business applications and services.

One leader of the Networking Industrial Complex has a certified army of mercenaries that are compensated by unsuspecting enterprises to architect networks. These mercenaries attend training camps to be reprogrammed on a frequent basis. Examinations are held to ensure compliance. This entire system ensures that networking architectures, techniques and methods will not change. It’s no wonder many executives of companies are handing the keys to IT and networking to third parties.

Watch ”AWS re:Invent 2016: Another Day, Another Billion Packets” on YouTube and you will quickly get a sense of how networking architectures could be. Mercenaries will all understand rapidly how AWS VPCs have transformed networking with software. They will also realize there is no BGP, OSPF, IS-IS, MPLS, ACLs, or multi-cast. In fact, most of the mercenary routing and switching curriculum is simply not relevant.

Or watch ”Facebook, Petr Lapukhov – Open/R The Joy of Packet Routing” on YouTube and you will see another approach to networking that is innovative and new. Facebook also has introduced IPv6 ILA as an additional technique for routing packets. Both of these approaches are implemented in software.

If you want further evidence that innovation is possible, watch ”Keynote: Cloud Native Networking- Amin Vahdat, Fellow & Technical Lead For Networking, Google” on YouTube. You will hear Google talk about how software drives their entire network in innovative ways.

All of these great companies have moved away from the tenets and beliefs of the Networking Industrial Complex. They have rejected the prospect that networking can’t change. They have used software systems to augment white box hardware to create efficient, secure, simple networks that cost less and work better. The mercenaries of the deep state have not been able to penetrate or influence these companies who all think differently.

What about the rest of us? Networking, networkers and service providers exist to support a business. They need to be part of the narrative of corporate strategy. To accomplish this, we need to move faster, more securely, with much less cost.  We need to become part of the solution, and not the problem. Many businesses are hoping to outsource networking just as they have server infrastructure. They don’t view it as strategic. They don’t understand it. It’s expensive. It hasn’t been identified as part of their competitive advantage.

Service providers can help their customers make their networks drive strategic competitive advantage – and drive their own revenues – by completely reimagining the network’s role in the business. When thinking about how you can change your customers’ networking approach, keep in mind these points:

  • Rather than thinking of the network as a lot of cool routing and switching hardware – as the Networking Industrial Complex mercenaries want – think of the network as a smart enabler of business.
  • Today’s hardware-based networks were built on a hodge-podge of different boxes that follow a routing model first developed in the 1990s. We didn’t have the demand then for bandwidth-hungry business applications that we do today, like video streaming and conferencing, virtual desktop, cloud storage and others.
  • Tunnel-based overlays like IPsec, MPLS and VxLAN cost networks a ‘bandwidth tax’ of anywhere between 5 percent and 40 percent of network bandwidth, making it difficult to handle network congestion.
  • In the 1990s, we also didn’t have the complex and shifting cyber threat landscape that we do today, including botnets, DDoS attacks and other malware. In the hardware-centric models of old, security was bolted onto the network like an afterthought, through firewalls and complex access control lists.
  • Reimagining the network, and making it software-based, means focusing on the router. The traditional “packet and flow” router needs lots of overhead because it needs to route each packet as “new.” By making routing session-oriented – making the network understand the language of sessions – we can provide intelligent, native load balancing, security that’s baked into the network, network control and analytics in a more dynamic manner to further support business growth.

Bold change is never easy, but we’re seeing a wave of companies bringing innovations that make the network simpler, more user-centric, and simply better at supporting business applications. Service providers would do well to understand how these new approaches are disrupting traditional networking and how they can adjust their capabilities to support it.

The first wave of SDN companies has come, and will soon fade. These companies converted known standard hardware and mercenary friendly functions to software used IETF standards to chain them together, and devops techniques for management. The deep state thinks these products will never outperform their hardware-based solutions.

Despite this resistance, smart service providers can buck the status quo and work with their customers to change their network architectures in a way that drives their business forward and makes the Networking Industrial Complex obsolete.

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