Posted by: Greg Ness | October 24, 2008

Recession-Induced Network Innovation

I just watched Cisco’s John Chambers “Can IT Strengthen the Economy?” interview at the recent Gartner conference just released at ZDNet.  John clearly sees innovation as the way out.  The network is strategic to business productivity.  Flexibility, speed and scale are becoming even more important.  That means dynamic connectivity and intelligence will become critical to the network.


I think it is only a matter of time before ALL of the leading networking players start talking about the (strategic importance of the) network as a way to succeed in an uncertain economic climate.  Last week, in “Cloud Computing, Virtualization and IT Diseconomies” I talked about the increasingly intense pressures already building on static network infrastructure, and the underlying need for more intelligence and automation.


These intense pressures are setting the stage for the next technology boom, by creating gaps between what networks can do today and what they’ll need to do tomorrow.  I was amazed at how quickly the concept of Infrastructure2.0 spread, including an interesting discussion at F5 Network’s pace-setting DevCentral blog.


These pressures are coming from increasing rates of change, especially in larger networks supporting more devices and branches and processes, as well as with the introduction of consolidation, virtualization and cloud computing initiatives.  These new initiatives are introducing even higher rates of change and making it clear that a static network will no longer be a strategic network.

[Thanks to Rick Kagan and Stu Bailey at Infoblox for the above image]


Across several recent articles at Archimedius I’ve talked about the increasingly costly demands of manual labor on IT, including IP address management, DNS, DHCP and a host of other core network services.  I’ve talked about the importance of reachability and connectivity intelligence within the network so that solutions can learn and adapt to these new fluid systems and more powerful endpoints.


Recent Computerworld and IDC research was also cited in IT diseconomies, my lengthy tome predicting the shrinking role of manual labor in IT.  I noted larger enterprises paying more for mundane, boring tasks like managing IP addresses by spreadsheet, even on a cost per IP address basis.




That’s one of the reasons I was so encouraged by the recent discussion at F5’s DevCentral community.  Here is the post if you’re interested in more.


Managing a heterogeneous infrastructure is difficult enough, but managing a dynamic, ever changing heterogeneous infrastructure that must be stable enough to deliver dynamic applications makes the former look like a walk in the park. Part of the problem is certainly the inability to manage heterogeneous network infrastructure devices from a single management system.

– Lori MacVittie, F5 DevCentral


Who knows if standards could ever emerge between the likes of Cisco, Juniper, Brocade, Riverbed and F5 Networks.  Lorie is quick to point out that they have worked in the past, as with WS-I (which included Microsoft and Oracle, among others).  A very interesting standard I mentioned previously is IF-MAP from the Trusted Computing Group™, which includes ArcSight, Aruba, Infoblox and Juniper, among others.


As the Mind requires a Nervous System; Network Intelligence requires Connectivity Intelligence


Yet I think standards will only be part of the solution, even if they are adopted.  I think the critical requirement for Infrastructure2.0 will be connectivity intelligence.  TCP/IP has now outgrown its static shell and is about to be tasked with connecting even more powerful and dynamic systems.  Whether it’s the rise of RFID in supply chain, mobility ala Google’s Android, or even the adoption of parking meters with their own IP addresses, it is clear that TCP/IP is spreading with or without a strong economy and the most productive enterprises will be the most likely to survive.


The manual labor that has driven IP address management costs higher as networks grow larger is similarly impacting other core network services (like DNS and DHCP) that were not created to support such complex arrays of devices, branches and systems.  This is the broader opportunity for Juniper, Brocade and others as well, not only to reduce network infrastructure TCO but to address the new level of flexibility enabled by virtualization and other initiatives driving new scale and flexibility requirements.


Enterprises are now on the battlefield between two competing forces, the rapid proliferation of TCP/IP and the increasingly dynamic and powerful systems and endpoints attaching to the network in order to boost productivity.  Those who succeed will have invested in automation based on dynamic feedback between devices and systems and the rise in network intelligence. 


Gone will be manual spreadsheets tracking IP addresses across large and ever-changing extended enterprise networks.  Gone will be endless hours of overtime tied up in mundane and resource-consuming tasks.  Gone will be manual pings to determine whether a network is available or secure or not.


This is the next technology boom, the era of Infrastructure2.0.  



Out of this coming weakness will emerge new strength, possibilities and profits.  As Microsoft, Google, Amazon build up steam in the cloud they are creating demands for even more powerful and intelligent networks.  Enterprises who see the network as tactical will take the brunt of the pain from a weak economy; those who embrace automation will be the fastest to return to normal and ultimately establish and or maintain operational leadership.





  1. Greg,

    I am the CEO and founder of an early stage company in Massachusetts, LineSider Technologies and I have been following your articles and analysis regarding the direction of the IP networking with deep interest.

    We have been working on tackling the cost, complexity and static constraints of IP networks through the development of virtualization software for infrastructure technologies and services. The Infobox diagram “Core Players and Requirements” I agree is a key representation of areas where technology innovation is required to deliver the promise of flexible/automated IP networks as you describe in 2.0.

    As you point out, the primary technology domains that need to be managed are network, application and endpoint (which I am assuming includes network users and groups managed in AD or Radius for example). In all the domains IP address criteria are among the critical identifiers for network connectivity, routing, switching security service and There-for configuration. As you also point out managing IP address schematics is significant cost center, configuration is still manual and labor intensive driving high network TCO.

    The approach we have taken is to innovate and build a policy engine that has knowledge of network systems and services running on them (routing, switching, VPN, FW, QoS, etc) , network users through LDAP and applications via VM software integration. This system allows business requirements defined at an end user level (the business) to dynamically automate configurations and adapt infrastructure automatically based on changes defined at a user and application level.

    Traditional methodologies for network management are labor intensive and forces a management architecture executed from the device up to application and endpoint user level, (as you point out in the cost analysis for address management). By taking the approach of automating infrastructure from Business Policies infrastructure services are automated in response to a single policy request which remains durable in the network system. This approach not only virtualizes infrastructure but automates it delivering significant TCO reductions. Accordingly the operational cost structure of delivering cloud services becomes manageable for providers and enterprises alike.

    Clearly network environments require a complex ecosystem of systems to provide quality, secure and highly available services. Most of the systems require integration to support dynamic changes and traditional management / monitoring functions. This is an arena as you also point out, where standards are critical.

    I would propose that the intelligence required to move toward the dynamic, lower cost infrastructure necessary to support 2.0 and applications of “2.0” such as Cloud Computing resides in part in the area of infrastructure virtualization.

    The good news is there are small companies like ours working hard on the problem along with the leaders like Google, Cisco, Microsoft, EMC and IBM etc. I could not agree more that the area of innovation and productivity gain you are focusing on here represents an extraordinary new market segment in IP networking.

    Harley Stowell

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  3. […] I wrote a blog in the fall of 2008 which was in parallel with Mike’s comments (see Recession Induced Network Innovation), albeit from a networking perspective, but which included Microsoft as a key software constituent […]

  4. The increasing digitization of economic activities has made possible important trends, each of which has significant implications for innovation.


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