In a matter of decades we watched the data network eliminate “middlemen” and arcane practices that had been around for centuries, only to see these practices re-emerge at the core of the network. Understanding this irony is pivotal to understanding what is about to take place within the network and its effect on the evolution of IT.
World history is filled with examples of the triumph of mobility and economy, and the similar triumph of automation over manual labor. The IT industry is no different. The fortunes of network equipment vendors will ride on how well they address a critical shift in thinking that has been accelerated by the rise of virtualization.
When virtualization entered the data center it marked the beginning of the end of (manual) labor intensive IT tasks. By decoupling application from dedicated hardware virtualization enabled a cottage industry of solutions dedicated to automation and change management. It also reinforced a profound shift in thinking that was already underway.
Cisco’s Chris Hoff mentioned this on a recent webcast when referring to prescient Carnegie Mellon research from 2001:
The rise of VMware, Citrix and Microsoft’s virtualization solutions presented both a cultural metaphor and a technological capability in plain view of IT pros and line of business leaders: automation of systems saved money and made IT more responsive. Networks managed by scripts and spreadsheets will seem slower and costlier as virtualization spreads.
Recently VMware’s Mark Thiele articulated a bold new data center vision that really looked like a model for driving the cloud computing market skyward. It showed how applications could migrate from one location to another, regardless of distance and in pursuit of even temporary advantages/savings or in avoidance of impending disasters.
The data center mesh Thiele predicted promises incredible economies and efficiencies and the ability to respond quickly and opportunistically to localized developments.
Cisco’s Hoff appears on the same page as he explores the implications of the big shift in thinking:
One’s natural inclination is then to ask: If this is so powerful then why aren’t most IT departments doing it? Hoff a few days later discusses the technical hurdles to true VMotion in The Emotion of VMotion:
Don’t get me wrong, I think VMotion is fantastic and the options it can ultimately delivery intensely useful, but we’re hamstrung by what is really the requirement to forklift — network design, network architecture and the laws of physics. In many cases we’re fascinated by VM Mobility, but a lot of that romanticization plays on emotion rather than utilization. – Chris Hoff- Rational Survivability Sep 2009
Between Thiele and Hoff you have a model for how cloud computing can work as a standalone business (with meshes of small data centers); and a crisp explanation for why the dynamic mesh hasn’t yet happened. You can also see the return of the network as a strategic enabler of IT’s evolution. As Cisco’s James Urquhart blogged late last year, the network is the final frontier for cloud computing.
Stateful VMotion (or portability) is the most elegant solution to addressing the declining cloud economics of density and complexity. For that reason alone it is likely that the tech hurdles will be addressed sooner rather than later.
Unlike standards-based efforts that can play out like an ongoing game of Prisoner’s dilemma, the gold spike scenario means that whoever achieves greater range and mobility first will have a significant competitive advantage.
The pony express, for example, lasted two days after the completion of the transcontinental telegraph.
While some network equipment vendors watch, others will be replacing manual tasks and processes with policies and mouse clicks. History will repeat itself once again.
I am a senior director at Infoblox. You can follow my rants at www.twitter.com/archimedius.