Posted by: Greg Ness | August 18, 2009

Todays Networks Resemble Yesterday’s Factories

Many of today’s large enterprise networks are burning cash and are overly dependent upon layers of manual processes (like DNS, DHCP and IPAM for starters) to stay available and secure.  Networks were created this way from the start; we architected networks to work just like the environments networks were about to transform.


From those early days until today they have replaced populations of “middle men” and paperwork with streaming electrons racing between larger populations of endpoints.  They drove incredible IT innovation and productivity gains.


Network vendors, meantime, had little incentive to do more than to produce ever more powerful network appliances requiring ever greater legions of tech laborers with their own budgets and buying privileges.  The productivity gains were so enormous that no one cared nearly as much about productivity within the network itself.


That leaves us with an ironic twist: today’s networks are often run like yesterday’s factories. 


We know what happened to those factories.  We saw them move offshore with the spread of just in time manufacturing and increasing capital investments overseas.  Is cloud computing signaling the arrival of just in time IT?


A soft global economy and the rise of virtualization are thusly a possible catalyst for the toppling of the manual labor empire that was the beginning of the end for many other manual empires.  This time the core of the information technology industry is about be… automated. 


Thomas Siebel was recently quoted lamenting the now passed glory days of IT.  Perhaps he was merely referring to the massive initial surge of people and market caps that fed the dotcom myth.  With automation IT will become even more strategic to even more economies and careers, just in different ways than with growing populations of manual laborers (merely scripting, configuring or moving a server from one rack to another).


Network pros today are often blamed for not being supportive enough of new initiatives. Yet they are the ones who have to jump through the most hoops for what might seem the most mundane change to others. As a result, they can be wrongfully perceived as standing in the way of the progress they once helped to initiate.


One department’s mouse click can be the network pro’s three day event with committees, permission slips and approval delays.  Over time that’s not good for careers or networks.


With virtualization IT pros are already speculating about the inevitability of cloud computing, yet VMotion is still trapped in static and increasingly dense VLAN jungles.  Servers are now more mobile than ever, but within the confines of ever more crowded VLANs. 


With the enterprise (or even public) cloud the sky is not the limit.  The network is the limit. 


This growing tension between system automation, increasing VLAN density/VMsprawl and rising network manual labor costs sets the stage for massive network innovation in management/automation, security and application delivery.  Without innovation the network becomes more expensive to operate and less relevant to the ongoing march of IT.


Until infrastructure 2.0, expect increasing VLAN density and IT concentration to risk turning short term savings into longer term headaches.  As virtualization decouples applications from hardware and enables greater flexibility, enterprises risk merely “recoupling” those applications to buildings in ever cheaper locations.


That is why the intercloud concept is so interesting.  It allows servers to pursue optimum conditions (costs, tax advantages, delivery requirements, location issues) in real-time with minimal manual intervention.  Compare that to manual management of optimization within the confines of a single VLAN.  Even if that is what today’s “public cloud” players are doing, is it optimum to concentrate a technology which enables greater flexibility?”


Yet moving away from this facility-coupling will require the automation and integration of IP address management with infrastructure across ever larger and more complex networks.  This evolution will unleash virtualization’s next big step, and set the stage for unprecedented innovation. 


Infrastructure 2.0 will establish entirely new ROI models for networks.  That will have a significant impact on the markets for the likes of Cisco, Juniper, F5 Networks, Brocade and others, not to mention virtualization leaders like VMware, Citrix and Microsoft.  That is why the network is so critical to the evolution of IT, despite the buzz around virtualization and cloud.


For virtualization and cloud… the network is the limit.



I am a senior director at Infoblox. You can follow my comments in real time at Or you can join the Infrastructure 2.0 conversation at the new blog.



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