Posted by: Greg Ness | September 11, 2009

Cambrian Cloud Explosions

My recent podcast on infrastructure 2.0 with John Willis reminded me of some recent banter about my use of the term “Cambrian explosion” to talk about where IT is headed when infrastructure 2.0 becomes a reality.  In short, today we have a classic preconditions scenario when automated systems are connected with automated networks.  Synergy is putting it mildly.


Let’s Digress


Today virtualization is contained within ever increasing, scattered VLAN empires that some are calling clouds.  If anything these clouds are mere vapor pockets trapped in shower stalls.  If you’re new to this discussion you can catch up here.


When the barriers that trap VMs convert into intelligent, permeable membranes it will unleash a new era of IT innovation built upon a new level of connectivity intelligence between endpoints, systems and networks.  Think of it as a kind of supply chain for connected IT tasks.


Today that supply chain is a collection of “middlemen” using decades-old practices, from scripts and spreadsheets to checklists and committees to keep networks available, secure and up-to-date.  Kind of takes you back to the days before the network, huh?


We saw the rise and impact of just-in-time manufacturing.  We’re about to see just-in-time IT, a term recently used by Arista’s Gourlay.  Those who embrace automation will win yet again.


Cambrian Age


You can read an overview of the Cambrian explosion at Wikipedia, but I’ll pull what I think is the most relevant quote:

Whatever triggered the early Cambrian diversification opened up an exceptionally wide range of previously-unavailable ecological niches. When these were all occupied, there was little room for such wide-ranging diversifications to occur again, because there was strong competition in all niches and incumbents usually had the advantage. If there had continued to be a wide range of empty niches, clades would be able to continue diversifying and become disparate enough for us to recognise them as different phyla; when niches are filled, lineages will continue to resemble one another long after they diverge, as there is limited opportunity for them to change their life-styles and forms.[91]

There is a similar one-time explosion in the evolution of land plants: after a cryptic history beginning about 450 million years ago, land plants underwent a uniquely rapid adaptive radiation during the Devonian period, about 400 million years ago.[10]



Cisco blogger James Urquhart once commented how virtualization will open up a broad range of IT models, similar to the complexity of the shipping industry with warehouses of various sizes, distribution centers and a variety of transport mechanisms (trucks, vans, ships, railroad cars, planes, etc).  We’re already flustered with cloud definitions, and most models have yet to fully embrace the network.


I think it was Irving Wladawsky-Berger who made the reference at Always On many months ago that resonated with Urquhart’s prescient observation.  I linked to a recent piece, yet he has talked about this notion for awhile.


Infrastructure 2.0 Young Turk Mark Thiele (from VMware) made a comment recently about how automation should not eliminate complexity but rather hide it from users so that they can focus on critical elements.  That hasn’t happened, especially in the world of DNS, DHCP and IP address management for starters.


What could it look like?


So then what happens when IT is freed from the shackles of manual scripting and configuration and change approval committees, and IT pros can focus on policy (security/access, application delivery, network, expense, etc)?  Tools evolve leveraging the new infrastructure that enables new potentials, similar to what occurred when desktop OSs evolved (from CLI to GUI for example); users expanded and created markets for more tools for more processes.


The dynamic, persistent link between application, network and system becomes the foundation for a cloud OS, which in turn transforms the network equipment industry by reducing opex and justifying new levels of capex, new levels of investment in infrastructure 2.0 gear.  That in turn creates new markets for new applications which are not truly network nor system; they are likely virtualization or cloud applications offered by those who saw this coming and planned for the explosion.


The worlds of various hardware vendors, from Cisco to Juniper to HP are in collision, creating vast new opportunities and niches within a vastly larger category.  Sounds like a potential Cambrian-style development to me.  IT makes for a catchy blog title at a minimum.


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