Software-defined connectivity planned for colocation data centers

Stateless is working on a new architecture to bring software-defined networking to colocation data centers that are constrained by physical cross-connects.

Software-defined connectivity planned for colocation data centers
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Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80 percent of enterprises will migrate entirely away from their on-premises data centers. Instead they’ll follow the current trend of moving workloads to colocation, hosting and the cloud, leading them to shut down their traditional data centers.

I’m sure that colocation centers look forward to the growth in business, but the growth also means the colocation data centers need to become more agile, scalable, and flexible. This is absolutely critical to their business model viability, but the challenge to get there is greater than ever.

Colocation providers have long benefitted from offering cross-connect and IT services, as well as Layer 2 WAN connectivity. However, these traditional offerings really aren't meeting the emerging demands from enterprise tenants who want more integrated, more secure and more automated networking solutions. As workloads move across different environments, such as SaaS and public clouds, there are management and operational challenges for colocation providers who are now being asked to support a more diverse portfolio of connectivity solutions.

The original solution that industry proposed for enabling colocation providers to become more agile was network functions virtualization (NFV). This approach would certainly reduce the cost and complications of more and bigger physical firewall and router appliances, but it does little to alleviate the complexities of operations and management of the multi-tenant at scale environments. NFV doesn’t really work in practice because it inherited the same architecture and design principles the physical appliances have, so it doesn’t solve the colocation providers’ increasing connectivity and service delivery needs.

Reinventing how workloads connect across data centers, clouds and on-premises systems

I recently talked with Murad Kablan, co-founder and CEO of Stateless, Inc., which aims to reinvent the means to connect workloads across data centers, hyperscale clouds, and on-premises footprints. The company recently secured funding to advance development of its software-defined interconnect (SD-IX). According to Kablan, Stateless is developing an architecture that will enable a colocation service provider to deploy network services in a simple manner.

“We think we have a unique perspective on how services can be deployed at this level,” Kablan said. “We’ve observed companies that provide capabilities like automated deployment and simplified operations, automated software updates, systems that don’t go down and that support a lot of users. These are the web-scale applications. We want to apply those types of architectures into the network function space, like firewalls and routers, so that is our focus.”

Here’s the concept of what Stateless is working on. Today, colocation data center providers use cross-connect to provide services for their tenants. Cross-connect is basically the data center operator plugging two cables in — one cable from a tenant that needs a service, such as access to Amazon Web Services (AWS), and another cable from a company that can provide that access. It’s easy to see how this process can’t scale well.

Stateless is developing a platform that sits inside the colocation provider and consolidates all those services, providing the ability to run custom services on a single consolidated platform in an automated fashion. Customers can offload the responsibility to the colocation provider, which is the direction the industry is moving in.

One of the key components of this architecture is state decoupling. “Each of the network functions has to keep track of all the traffic that’s going on. This is known as the state of the network functions,” Kablan explained. “If you lose track of the state, it disrupts the entire network. Our approach decouples that information and puts it in a scale-out data store. Now we have these stateless network functions that can get a state from anywhere, and this allows elasticity, resilience and updates — all the capabilities packaged together in what is needed for good operations.”

Kablan said the next step is to put that data store around a microservices architecture. “This allows us to orchestrate it and decompose the functions. Instead of these big major functions, we break them down into individual components that allow the network provider to define exactly what they need,” he said. “With this, now the providers get a platform where they just run it and their tenants can start defining their custom networks that they need. All the operational challenges of launching it and managing it are all automated behind the scenes.”

A few early adopters are already working with this software-defined connectivity architecture, but Stateless doesn’t plan to announce or launch the product until later this year. The company just secured more than $11 million in Series A funding led by Drive Capital. The first use case is the colocation inter-connectivity because these companies make heavy use of physical firewalls, routers, load balancers, and intrusion detection systems, and they have increasing problems of scaling for their numerous tenants.

2025 isn’t very far off. If 80 percent of enterprises are to do away with their on-premises data centers and move to colocation, hosting and the cloud, technical innovations like software-defined inter-connectivity will be an important step for us to get there.

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