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Lori MacVittie

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The Bifurcation of the Network

Emerging technology is bifurcating not only operations, but the network itself

Emerging technology is bifurcating not only operations, but the network itself

A funny thing happened on the way to the next generation data center architecture... the network split. Not just operationally, with devops taking on more and more operational responsibility for application-focused infrastructure, and not just topologically. There is a bifurcation of the network occurring that's more than logical, it's physical - with boundaries and everything.

Rather than become more fluid, as one would expect with such liquefying technology such as virtualization and cloud, a core network is emerging that is encased in a firm shell through which there is no passage for application-focused elements.

In this blog we shall henceforth refer to the two networks as the "core" network and the "business" network.

Driven by cloud and virtualization, application architectures have become what developers refer to as a "singleton" pattern. It's a Highlander pattern. You know, "there can be only one". An "application" is becoming isolated - along with its supporting infrastructure. That in itself is not a bad thing, because it recognizes that there are infrastructure elements and services that are an integral component of an "application" such as load balancing, caching, and application-specific security. But it does act as a forcing factor on the network architecture that results in a more tenant (and by tenant I mean application) oriented architecture. Core network services, on the other hand, remain shared. Organizational security focused on preventing network attacks from succeeding in denial of service or infection by malware remains shared; it is an organizational concern that remains part of the core network.

But specific application security and infrastructure services are increasingly moving inward in more isolated pocket architectures within a business network to be deployed and managed along with the applications they support. The business network may exist primarily in the virtual domain, being wholly topological in nature and, increasingly, software defined. Comprised of virtual machines hosting applications, infrastructure services, and leveraging virtual switches and services, the business network is beginning to fall into the demesne of devops and business owners rather than that of the traditional network professional.

Meanwhile, the core network remains firmly in the domain of the network professional. Physical routers and switches and infrastructure, whether traditional or SDN-enabled, remain the norm here in the core network, owing to the shared nature of the services and the need for extreme scalability, reliability and simply, bandwidth.

You can see the impact of this change occurring when you investigate how developers and devops spend much of their time. They spend it on troubleshooting, configuring, automating, and deploying. And it's increasingly common to see developers spending time on what are traditionally "network" responsibilities.

Electric Cloud conducted a developer survey on productivity in March 2013. The results? Folks in application development indicated they spend 2-5 hours per week on environmental configuration.

While this has implications for devops and, in particular, speaks to the need for automation, it also tells a story; a story of a more involved application development organization in managing the "environment" in which an application is ultimately deployed.

There is a shift in the power balance of the data center, and it is leaning toward devops and developers. It is because the network is so critical to the business that this shift is occurring. Isolation of core connectivity and security from the increasingly agile, continuous development and deployment cycles supporting the business.

This shift in power and responsibility is game-changing and ultimately it's going to result in a lot of very interesting changes across the entire industry.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.