What's Driving the Need for Network Agility?
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading
A laundry list of technology trends is requiring network operators to make their networks more agile. These include mobility, the cloud, and virtualization, with video exacerbating the problem, says a Ciena executive.
Until recently, networks demands were relatively static, changing slowly, in a predictable fashion, and under carrier control. But now things are changing fast, and customers are driving demand unpredictably, says Mitch Auster, senior director of market development for Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN).
I talked with Auster about Ciena's Agility Multilayer WAN Controller, announced this week. (See Ciena Introduces Management Tools to Make Networks Flexible.) The WAN management software is designed to help carriers meet the unpredictable bandwidth demands of today's enterprise and cloud customers. Auster started by describing what those needs are, which seemed sufficiently interesting and useful to warrant a separate article.
Enterprise and cloud customers make network demand uncertain and unpredictable. Carriers need to be able to meet demand spikes and changes without overprovisioning the network, Auster said.
Mobility is one of the primary drivers of shifting demand. Mobility makes it uncertain where content will be received.
Similarly, the cloud makes data sources unpredictable and movable. "Content and apps can be served from a number of different data centers," Auster said. "It used to be from the company's own enterprise data centers. But now the end users can be getting applications and content on any number of cloud data centers. That causes uncertainty. And cloud providers themselves may shift content from one data center to another for proximity, their own management, or follow-the-moon/follow-the-sun efficiencies."
Virtualized computing requires flexibility by moving from one hardware server or data center to another, bringing related data and storage with it. An enterprise customers might unpredictably need 20 Gbit/s bandwidth for 30 minutes to transfer the virtual machine and its associated storage between data centers. "But you don't want to configure the network for that peak. You want to allocate the resources just for the duration of that transaction."
Video, though not contributing to uncertainty directly, exacerbates the problem. Network operators are no longer dealing with short messages and email; they have to manage HD and 4K video streams, along with terabyte-sized data files.
"The overall problem is to make better use of network resources and become more efficient," Auster said. "It's to streamline and automate operations, as opposed to having to go to multiple vendor management systems." Carriers need to allow customers to service themselves and let applications directly program the network, to save operating expenses and, more importantly, let the carrier become more agile.
It's a problem multiple vendors are trying to address. The need for greater network agility is behind Cisco's recently introduced WAN Automation Engine, as well as the company's overall Application Centric Infrastructure strategy. (See Cisco Intros Automated WAN Management, Cisco Integrates Virtual, Physical Networks, and For Cisco, Is 'SDN' Code for 'Crush VMware?') Cyan Inc. recently introduced Planet Orchestrate, which is designed to allow carriers to manage physical and virtual networks. (See Cyan Debuts Planet Orchestrate to Manage Physical & Virtual Network Resources.) And Overture is introducing a hardware approach to help carriers make enterprise customer networks more agile. (See Overture Adds Hardware to Its NFV Pitch .)
Ultimately, customers, rather than carriers, will drive innovation on carrier networks. (See CenturyLink: Customers Will Drive Innovation on Carrier Networks.)
Overall, the need for greater network agility represents a seismic shift in carrier networking, and vendors are scrambling to meet the need.