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App-Aware Networks Get Earlier To Realism

Keep in mind the Sun Microsystems advertising tagline from the late ’90s that proclaim “The system is the processor”? Well, it’s 2010 and that still isn’t realism. But now it’s at smallest amount close, and we’re considering very real skin and crop that suggest application consciousness will be central to how networks purpose in the not-too-distant prospect.

Fresh move by Brocade, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, VMware, and others underscore that switch vendor aren’t content with supplying the hardware and software to make a dumb network for transport data. They’re demanding a bigger chunk of the compute marketplace and put up the R&D dollars to make it happen, investing in knowledge that lets the network morph into an intelligent, application-aware hub. If network vendors have their way, the system of the future will organize and manage the entire claim stack–though they won’t get control without a brawl.

Super fast and low-latency connectivity is letting network gear vendor demand bigger roles. Other enabling technology include virtualization and processors fast sufficient and memory abundant sufficient to allow abstraction of the hardware layer in networks, and eventually storage space and other systems, just as it has be for servers. Big vendors are also promising that this “bionetwork” will be controllable from a single point, as well as able to monitor and proactively ensure its own health.

It’s a realistic long-term vision, but one that must be approached with caution.

What’s Driving This Bus?

Server virtualization seeks to decouple compute resources from physical hardware–to make resources stateless. The network plays a vital role here. Before today’s virtualization boom, the biggest challenge to distributing compute resources over any distance greater than the dimensions of a physical server was that no network could carry traffic at the speeds and distances required in a low-latency, high-speed configuration.

Old-fashioned buses could only take us so far. Now there are new networking technologies such as InfiniBand; Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE); 10, 40, and 100 Gigabit Ethernet; N-Port ID virtualization; and lossless Ethernet. With these, IT can start to create a framework for true network convergence between Fibre Channel (the network for all things storage) and Ethernet (the network for all things IP). This convergence can bring a simplified data-center-wide “fabric” and allow seamless mobility of operating systems and apps among various compute resources.

Intelligent, application-centric monitoring and management tools are also critical to this vision. These tools allow for more proactive end-to-end monitoring of all compute resources in the environment and raise the awareness of the network in the context of the medium so necessary corrective actions can be made swiftly. These tools have become even more important in that they aren’t external to the compute stack but can be embedded via hooks into the operating system, network, application, and I/O stacks. This improves their ability to be integrated with not only the compute side but also the network itself.

Naturally, switch vendor such as Brocade and Cisco, and organization software vendor such as IBM and others, want to make the system not only aware of the high demand placed by such calculate abstraction, but also put it in manage of what gets accessed, and in what mode. When the network is conscious of what use these compute resources are put to, the idea is, the network can intelligently provide resources that are optimized for the task; for example, a CPU-intensive compute environment could be given resources that have faster, stronger CPUs vs. a memory-intensive compute environment getting resources that are optimized for high-speed memory access.

Furthermore, vendor is seeking to make a unified “ecosystem” where all calculate resources are included and able to be forbidden from a single point. In the app-aware network, it’s the system that will have to check the health of the compute surroundings and the resources it uses and seek to self-govern and self-heal. If a certain application seems poised to fail or starts performing below set baselines due to a lack of adequate resources, whether CPU, memory, storage or throughput, the network will be able to automatically mobilize additional hardware in order to keep the system performing at an acceptable level.

On the “Internet-facing” or IP side, network have turn out to be more and more self-healing as well, thanks to clever monitoring and organization software that can become aware of and isolate evils. In general, these systems probe the happy being serve from the compute reserve. Expect this functionality to converge with server functionality one day.

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