Future Generations Riding on the Highways that We Built

When I was in high school and college, I never thought about a career in networking; it was just something I did because it was better than all the other jobs I could find.  I worked at my first networking startup in the late ‘80s and twenty-five years later, I am still working in networking.

If you are interested in networking, next week is going to be a big week.  Permit me to clarify a big week.  Next week on the 6th, Cisco is going to unveil their internal spin-in startup called Insieme in New York at the Waldorf.  I have yet to receive my invite, but I am sure it is just stuck in a spam filter.  Cisco is going to tell world all about building networks around applications, which is something Plexxi has been working on for three (3) years.  I think this is going to be a game changing event in the world of networking for several reasons.

While the Cisco event is going on, the OpenStack summit will be occurring in Hong Kong and this another important event in networking.  The day before the Cisco Insieme unveil in New York, Arista Networks is hosting an event on the 5th to make announcement.  I am not sure what they are going to announce, but I suspect it could be an overlay controller or controller of some kind and perhaps an upgraded spine switch.  In all, three big events in one week.

Starting next week, the conversations in the world of networking are going to change.  I have posted on this blog that we have been building networks the same way for decades.  I am not going to repeat those observations as networking category contains all the prior posts.  What I do know will happen, is that conservations in the networking world will be become bi-frucated next week.  In one group there will be a group of people talking about plain old networking (PON), which is about building networks the same way we have always been building networks for thirty years.  In the other group, will be at least two companies who have decided to dispense with the past and move onto the future.  The future is something I wrote about sixteen months ago.

Looking back to June 2012, I wrote this post after being at Plexxi for six months.  The important part of that post was the definition of SDN, which was really derived from what the Plexxi team building into our product set.  In hindsight, it was probably one of the important time periods in the life of Plexxi as it summarizes how the Plexxi team thought about building the network differently  It defines the engineering challenge taken on by the Plexxi team and it was not a trivial challenge.  Each of the following tenants are visible in the product set that Plexxi is shipping today:

  • Computation and algorithms, in a word math. That is what SDN is.
  • Derive network topology and orchestration from the application and/or the tenant.  This is how SDN is different from switched networks.
  • Ensure application/tenant performance and reliability goals are accomplished.  This is part of the value proposition.
  • Make Network Orchestration concurrent with application deployment. This is what SDN is for.
  • A properly designed controller architecture has the scope, the perspective and the resources to efficiently compute and fit application instantences and tenants onto the network. This is how SDN will work.

Lost between tomorrow and yesterday, between now and then the dialog in the world of networking is going to change.  It is going to change because the company with 75-80% market share that is synonymous with networking is going to tell their $200B installed base of customers to build networks differently.  It is going to sound a lot like the tenants from the bullets above and for every company in the networking space that is not capable of having that conversation, I suspect that their sales process will be harder going forward because Insieme is Cisco.

The dialog in the land of networking will change next week.  RFXs will be different.  Within twelve months of November 6th, I think customers will stop asking how many protocols your system supports.  They will care less about switch buffers, FPGA programming, PXE booting, OpenFlow, DPI, firewalls and load balancers.  End-user dialog will evolve from bare metal to performance benchmarks of the network as a concurrent system.  End-users will no longer ask if OSPF, PIM, IGMP snooping and DHCP relay are supported, but rather ask about application deployment, security domains and scaling the networking around high-performance controllers capable of 100-250M flows/ps.  The network dialog will be very different and for Plexxi that will be awesome.  In February 2013, Plexxi will be three years old and many, many man hours of engineering work into our product set.  When Insieme changes the dialog in networking, every other vendor will will need to join the new network group quickly as it will be impossible to make up a 24-36 month lead spotted to Insieme.  As always, I could be mistaken and this entire post could be a complete waste of 45 minutes on VA flight to SFO.

/wrk

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