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Network complexity limiting growth more than bandwidth

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Engineers are beginning to adopt SDN (software defined networking) to tackle network complexity, which has been identified by some at least, as a bigger barrier to network growth than bandwidth constraints. This week saw the launch of an open source tool designed by OpenFlow and Open Network Foundation supporters to help operators measure network complexity.

Stu Bailey, CTO at Infoblox collaborated with the University of Chicago’s Professor Robert Grossman to create Tapestry, available as a free download through the FlowForwarding.Org community project in October. OpenFlow is a Network management and switching specification backed by the Open Network Foundation, which is dedicated to promoting SDN adoption and development.

“For the first time in the history of the networking industry, it is becoming clear that complexity rather than bandwidth is the barrier to network growth,” said Bailey. “Today, discussions about network complexity focus on the tangle of wires and boxes, rather than the relationship of business processes to an increasingly large, dynamic, and shared global IT infrastructure.

Adopting key Network Functions Virtualization and SDN attributes, the Tapestry software can run on “virtually any computer or set of computers”, and harnesses an equation created by Bailey-Grossman to generate a Network Complexity Index (NCI) number based on endpoint interaction data from network-wide control systems such as the DNS.

The Bailey-Grossman equation for network complexity accounts for the number of endpoints on a network and how they interact to perform key business functions, rather than counting the number of network infrastructure devices and mapping the wires that connect them.

Tapestry will run on a free, open-source SDN control plane from FlowForwarding.org called Loom. Loom in turn will control SDN white boxes, built on inexpensive programmable Ethernet processors and available for as little as $300, to collect the NCI data. These white boxes can be deployed in front of a network’s DNS servers without disrupting existing infrastructure or operations.

“The rapid change in network technology – including virtualisation, cloud, big data and machine-to-machine communications – make it essential to look at a bigger picture. We hope Tapestry and the ideas on which the NCI is built will start a vigorous conversation on the future of IT networks. Network complexity is a CIO-level issue that needs to be both quantified and understood.”

On a grander scale, the idea is to help IT organisations evaluate the potential benefits and gain hands-on experience in moving from hardware-defined networking to SDN. New, low-cost SDN devices can instantly transform themselves from monitors to routers to switchers to firewalls to load balancers as needed. Being able to quantify network complexity for the first time with measurements such as NCI is an early example of how SDN applications may help CIOs cope with the increasing pace of business processes and the movement to virtualised, cloud and software-defined infrastructure, the engineers said.


One comment

  1. Michael Bushong (@mbushong) 27/09/2013 @ 7:23 pm

    Interesting. I like that there could be ways to quantify complexity at an architectural level rather than vendor-specific box-level approximations and models.

    Does this consider things like rate of change? Does it look at edge policy? How does it consider things like complexity of provisioning? Does it consider the number of supporting systems that are integrated and/or orchestrated?

    I ask these questions not to get a data sheet on the product but rather to suggest that there will be a lot of drivers in complexity that extend beyond just the number of endpoints. I think tools like this that can potentially get past that could be a great benefit for the industry.

    -Mike Bushong (@mbushong)
    Plexxi

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