• United States
IDG Enterprise Consulting Director

A new era in networking is upon us: So what do we call it?

Jan 09, 20046 mins
Data Center

* Your response to the New Data Center

“He who would travel happy must travel light.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“He who would travel happy must travel light.”– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Dear Vorticians,

I am traveling and happy, though admittedly not as light as I ought to be.

My trip this week has brought me around Silicon Valley where I’ve had the opportunity to discuss with a wide variety of companies the next era of the IT industry – a topic we’ve been discussing in this newsletter for several issues now.

What I’ve heard has been nearly unanimous: leaders from software, networking and storage all agree that the industry is entering a new phase and we don’t know yet what we’ll call this era. We are building something different – new applications and a new infrastructure to support them – but we don’t agree on the name and the architectural plan.

This is what readers of VORTEX Digest have been saying in the days since I raised my views on what I’m calling the New Data Center. This week, I want to share some of the thoughts readers have offered up to me and invite you to weigh in with your own views. As always, I’m available at

Vortician David Cohn, director of e-Business Solutions & Autonomic Computing at IBM, offered Big Blue’s take on what’s ahead. (As an interesting side note, David Cohn is the father of venture capitalist Alan Cohn, who has served with distinction on the VORTEX conference advisory board. This father-son bonding around VORTEX is highly recommended.)

“John, you are, indeed, talking about the right topic.  It should not surprise you that at IBM we have been very concerned with ‘defining the next wave in computing’ for quite some time.  Your ‘New Data Center’ is what we have been calling the on demand Operating Environment and is one of three parts of our on demand initiative.  We describe the on demand Operating Environment as being:

* Integrated: This is about the integration of data, applications, devices, processes and people across an enterprise. Integration is the essence of IBM’s software business because when you strip it down to bare metal, the vertical links between applications and operating systems alone won’t deliver the kind of responsiveness that enterprises demand today.

* Virtualized: IT infrastructure is generally underutilized. The cost of carrying all this extra infrastructure is enormous. In the Intel world, utilization can be as low as 15%. In Unix, 20% to 30%. Storage utilization also presents tremendous opportunity for improvement.  Virtualization creates pools of resources that can be managed, accessed and leveraged more efficiently – from specific storage and server virtualization technologies at the box level to SAN and grid solutions.

* Autonomic: On top of low utilization rates, infrastructure costs and complexity are spiraling out of control. As the cost of technology goes down and technology proliferates, that spiral will only continue. There’s tremendous value in automating infrastructure management, security and control. As environments are virtualized, there is greater opportunity to deploy management tools to automate that environment.

* Open: Of course, underlying all this are open industry standards. You don’t get the integration — of all the technologies, the users, the devices — any other way. IBM has been a leading proponent of open standards for the past decade.

“Your note focuses on virtualization, perhaps the most visible of the four properties. However, when you think about what an enterprise needs, you will likely conclude (as we did) that integrating its information infrastructure, improving its management capabilities and leveraging an open, competitive marketplace are just as critical.

“The other two aspects of on demand deal with the design of an enterprise’s business models and processes and with the ways it acquires and manages its processes and technology.  Much of the press interest has stressed a limited view of the latter point, but it is the power of combining all three elements that makes on demand so important.”

Vortician Linda Strawser, vice president of Customer Advocacy with Oracle, had her own take. “John, your last letter talked about the next wave of computing and data centers. You are right that there is a quiet revolution going on in computing – with major change happening at virtually every level of our infrastructure and applications – and it’s just not being discussed, at least not in any comprehensive fashion. Oracle’s next level of computing is the Grid. We call it 10g. People are talking about it, but it is already here.”

IBM’s on demand. Oracle’s Grid. Note the interesting distinction there. To Oracle, grid computing is the strategic goal. To IBM, grid is a tactical element of the on demand goal. For Nortel, it’s all about virtualization to the extreme, as we hear from Vortician Bruce Gustafson with the wireless networks group at Nortel.

“I suspect that there are striking parallels between what you describe – the virtualization of the IT utility – and our belief at Nortel that the entirety of the compute/communications infrastructure is going virtual. Excuse the use of the commercial tagline, but boundaries are blurring across all of our domains. Communications and IT networks are now indistinguishable as much as we cling to the outdated concepts – our kids will struggle to understand how we were ever able to define a line separating the two sides of that coin. Beyond that, the tight coupling of infrastructure, regulatory boundaries (sorry to resurrect that!), and geographic/jurisdictional boundaries are all but unworkable when mapped against the emerging reality.

“If you step back, squint your eyes, and take a hard look at the network, it quickly becomes apparent that the boundaries we impose are now more virtual than physical; more philosophical than logical. The network is physically the interconnected reality of all the enterprise IT and carrier transport that has resulted from decades of combined private and public infrastructure spending. We move information from your desktop to mine, from your handset to mine, or from the bowels of one machine to another, along the way crossing one virtual boundary after another. The reality of “where” exists only in the mind of the sender and receiver – the actual locations and paths of bits and waveforms is buried within the organized chaos of the network – “…indistinguishable from magic”, I believe the quote concludes.

“I’d like to mine your whitepaper for areas of enterprise IT and public network commonality – I’m seeking to define the common lexicon that describes the combined future that the network embodies. You’ll see the result as we refine our articulation of Nortel’s vision, a view of the future which should stir debate throughout the coming year.”

Bruce, that sounds promising and stirring debate was what I hoped all along. Send your thoughts to and I’ll share some more insights from readers in upcoming editions.

Bye for now. Thanks.