Evolving an intelligent network

By : |October 15, 2012 0

BANGALORE, INDIA: The network has arguably transformed the delivery of business and consumer services. Today’s architectural shifts are fuelling yet more innovation to meet the need for a simplified, intelligent and application driven network platform.


Trends in enterprise and consumer environments have converged to place unprecedented demands on enterprise IT architectures. One example spans the proliferation of access devices, an increased reliance on rich media to interact with businesses and individuals, and exponential growth in data that a typical enterprise produces and consumes.

Coupled with emphasis on efficiency, productivity and agility, this prompted architectural responses that are familiar by now: consolidation, virtualization, cloud computing and mobility. Another trend worth noting is the dramatic change in the way individuals and communities learn, live, play and work. Many of us lead increasingly connected lives, producing and consuming data across e-Learning, social media, online gaming and telecommuting environments.

Impact on the network

Most data generated by a user connecting to an application traditionally flowed between a single client device and a single back-end application platform. This has changed, as practically every enterprise or consumer transaction sparks off interaction between multiple applications within or across data centers. Cloud environments allow application migration back and forth on different physical platforms.

User interactions also span multiple devices over a period of time. Network infrastructure and policies have to dynamically adapt to these shifts in traffic flows and consistently apply appropriate policies to different client devices. These trends in enterprise architecture and individual connectedness demand an evolution of the network to further catalyze new services and support business growth.

As network infrastructure facilitates data movement between application platforms and end users, and controls characteristics like quality of service, security and business continuity, it is inevitable that we demand a means by which software can directly harness the embedded intelligence and programmatically manage network policies. A programmable network promises to simplify management tasks, while optimizing network behavior for applications running on virtualized infrastructure.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) proposes the ability to control behaviour of network devices programmatically. SDN can also enable better analytical tools to reduce network management and maintenance costs. While still in its infancy SDN will, the industry hopes, impart more simplicity, flexibility, dynamism and efficiency to networks, thus accelerating the move to highly efficient, scalable and more manageable cloud environments.

One industry initiative associated with SDN is OpenFlow. Fundamental to OpenFlow is the concept of separating the Data Plane (the component dealing with data that passes through a network element) from the Control Plane (the component containing rules that manage traffic flow). It is a standard protocol defining communication between the control and data planes.

Using the protocol, an SDN control program can manipulate any OpenFlow-enabled network device to deliver unified management, automation and simplified control of heterogeneous network environments.

While a protocol like OpenFlow crucially enables the control plane to communicate with the data plane, a comprehensive approach will extend the functionality to encompass all other network layers – transport, network services and management and orchestration.


Figure 1: A Programmable Network creates a Control Loop for Applications


For example, Virtual Network Overlays can partition a physical network into multiple logically isolated networks that can then be individually programmed and managed to deliver optimal Cloud Computing and Multi Tenancy. Lifecycle management of virtual network overlays on physical infrastructure can be greatly facilitated with an automated orchestration engine.

Equally vital is a common Application Programming Interface (API) that developers can exploit to create applications that interact with and appropriately control different networking equipment.

The author is vice president, Technology, Data Centre and Cloud Computing, India and SAARC at Cisco.

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