An Integrated Network – Are You Sure It Means What You Think It Means?

Vendors, especially networking vendors, use the term “integrated” to imply that their technology works with other parts of the IT infrastructure ecosystem in a blended, cohesive manner.

This is especially true for cloud management platforms. However, every vendor seems to have a different idea of what the term means and the implications it has on the overall data center. In other words, an integrated network might not be as integrated as you think.

In the race for technology vendors to win market share, the devil is in the details.

The challenge for IT organizations

Businesses that are trying to build a private, on premise cloud infrastructure want the same ease of use and management experience that they would get with a public cloud service. Providers such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform build custom software programs to create highly-integrated environments. Software-defined aspects of compute, storage, and network infrastructure all talk to each other behind the scenes via APIs, exchanging data about their own systems state, health, and capabilities. Custom applications make for an intuitive end user experience, but this option is not feasible for all companies.

However, a software-defined network is not only feasible, it can provide true integration, and help drive a better overall cloud experience. The network is responsible for gluing together the compute and the storage resources in a way that matters to the applications. The network is at the center of a good private cloud strategy, and plays an especially important role in the area of integration.

What comprises a true network integration?

Networking vendors make a variety of claims with respect to their level of “integrated-ness” in the IT infrastructure ecosystem. But integration has a number of facets that comprise a true integrated system. To achieve a true on premise cloud, integration needs to evolve. It needs to be a fully bi-directional information exchange, and it needs to cover all three layers of integrated networking requirements.

  1. Bootstrap Layer

As customers expect more ease-of-use, they insist on easier installation for components, and expect vendors to work together to provide single installation and bootstrapping mechanisms that resolve common chicken and the egg issues. There are very few examples of integrated bootstrapping in the industry outside of pre-engineered converged systems. However, this is changing.

  1. Lifecycle Layer

Lifecycle refers to the various phases a particular resource might go through; compute and storage have diverse lifecycle needs. For example, on the compute side, virtual machines need to be created, modified or moved, and eventually destroyed. For storage, a given data store might need to have similar type events and may also need to be rebuilt if the underlying drive system is changed. Increasingly, higher-speed NVMe based memory systems are being used as the underlying storage mechanism which can have explicit end-to-end lossless requirements for packet transport. The network needs to understand all of these lifecycle events to provide a fully integrated environment.

A truly integrated network accommodates the lifecycle requirements of both compute and storage, whether that entails auto-configuration of network for connectivity purposes, or dynamic response to events that need network resources such as bandwidth, low latency, or dedicated network paths.

A networking vendor that focuses only on compute events, such as VLAN auto-configuration for new VMs or dynamic updates as VMs move, is overlooking a considerable portion of the infrastructure.

  1. Converged Management Layer

As a best practice, private clouds should require as few management consoles as possible. Many of the leading cloud management platforms allow the other systems to be managed from that platform via third party plug-ins. A fully integrated network should provide as much management integration into that platform as possible. This should not stop at the read-only viewing of network information but extend into full operational control of the system.

Dig deep

There is more to a network integration than being integrated. To achieve a true on premise cloud, the network needs to have a full bi-directional information exchange and needs to cover all three layers of integrated networking requirements: bootstrap, lifecycle and converged management.

When evaluating your own network, ask the tough questions and dig deep into your integration. You may discover it is not as integrated as you think it is. True integration will enable unencumbered workload performance and quantifiable business value.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has worked with customers to better understand their needs and believes that the integrated network is an energized mesh that is responsive to fluctuating needs, scalable to support growth, and simple to manage. The HPE Composable Fabric is purpose-built to integrate your network with the infrastructure and deliver results without iteration.

To learn more about networking innovation, read Gartner’s whitepaper, Look Beyond Network Vendors for Network Innovation. And, to learn more about HPE Composable Fabric, check out: HPE Composable Fabric: Data Center Fabric Explained.

About the author

Mat Mathews is the Vice President and General Manager for Composable Fabric at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Mat has spent 20 years in the networking industry observing, experimenting, and ultimately honing his technology vision. Prior to his current role at HPE, Mat was co-founder and VP Product Management at Plexxi. He began his career as a software engineer and holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. To read more from Mat, please visit the Shifting to Software-Defined blogsite.