I was reading this Cisco blog post the other day and it is about how the network is the architectural foundation of the data center and the key element for cloud computing, application strategy and hosting services. As I was reading the post, it occurred to me that the network we have today is a lot like the F-4 Phantom II.
The design principle for the F-4 was to find the biggest engine possible, wrap an airframe around it and make the plane support every possible mission requirement by every service branch in the world. I will be the first to admit that growing up as a kid that I thought the F-4 was a cool looking plane. Latter in life I learned that is was cool looking because it was not very airworthy. All the wing modifications, tails, fins, knobs, bulges, do dads were added to make it controllable in flight. Yes, the engines were the biggest money could buy, but the aerodynamics characteristics of the plane were terrible.
I think the network we have today is pretty much the F-4 Phantom II of networks. The network we have today has had a very long service life and we have been living the Moore’s Law dream for good thirty years, but that is all ending as I have posted before. If the network we have today is the architectural foundation of the future, we are in big trouble. We have been applying the same design principle to the network that the USAF did to the F-4 Phantom II. Earlier I posted that this was because of doctrine. The network we have today is a collection of band aids, do dads, modifications, knobs, thingamajiggers all intended to make it fly; I mean work. We have data compression, load balancers, firewalls, spanning tree, VLANs, data de-duplication, WAN acceleration, TRILL, Virtual Port-Channels (vPC), Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV), Locator/ID Separation Protocol (LISP), FabricPath, FibreChannel-over-Ethernet (FCoE), Virtual Security Gateway (VSG), OSPF, RIP 1, RIP 2, IGRP, middleware, OpenFlow, etc.
I am ready to throw it all out. When I look at the network we have today, I think we have the F-4 Phantom II of networks. Both have had a long service life and both were continuously modified to meet changing roles, but the network today like the F-4 in its time is a performance loser. The United Statesaddressed the flight envelop limitations of the F-4 by designing the first airplane in US jet age to be solely designed for the air superiority mission. That plane became the F-15.
We need a new network and we need to start with two design principles. The first is to be guided by principle of end-to-end arguments in system design and push complexity to the edge and the second is to accept that the network does only one of two actions: connect and disconnect. All the protocols and techniques I listed in the third paragraph (which is about 1 bps of all the stuff out there) were created because as networking people we failed to heed the lessons of the before mentioned principles. I have been posting about this before here and here, and this is post is an extension of those thoughts because I am continually surprised that people think that network is more important than the application and the compute point and that the way to fix the network is to add more stuff to make it work better.
I think this is just crazy talk from people who are buried so deep in the networking pit that they do not realize that they are still using Geocities and they are wondering where everyone has gone. There is a new network rising and instead of connecting a device to all devices and then using 500 tools, protocols and devices to break, shape, compress, balance and route those connections between devices, we are going to have a network that connects the compute elements as needed. We are not going to build a network to do all things; we are going to build a network that facilitates the applications at the compute point, thus pushing complexity to the edge. I think of it as the F-15 – not the F-4 and with this new network, we will need less consultants to explain how it works.
* It is all about the network stupid, because it is all about compute. *
** Comments are always welcome in the comments section or in private. **