FUTURE:NET 2017: Software Is the Future of Networking

“Networking is undergoing a fundamental transformation,” said Bruce Davie, VMware’s vice president and CTO, APJ, kicking off a session at FUTURE:NET 2017.

FUTURE:NET, hosted by VMware, provides a forum for networking professionals from a variety of industries to come together to discuss issues central to the future of networking outside of a pitch or conference environment. FUTURE:NET is designed to help network architects understand and seek solutions to common challenges involving clouds, containers, and virtualization.

Highlighting the Digital Journey
This year’s FUTURE:NET, held in late August in Las Vegas, focused on the demands digital transformation makes on a new network strategy. The central thesis of the conference is that networking, both highly specialized and siloed, is in the midst of an enormous shift.

Today, everything of value is connected: applications, clouds, devices, and end users. The network has emerged as the critical piece that connects all these components reliably and securely. As businesses race forward to transform their IT environments to support this new, connected environment, it is incumbent upon the network to provide a seamless and secure experience for customers and employees alike.

“To see the future of networking, we need only look at one of the dominant trends in IT: the shift in power toward lines of business and developers,” said Davie. “With developers becoming increasingly important and empowered to choose their own tools, and lines of business adopting public cloud capabilities to become more agile, networking is no longer the sole province of the IT department.”

The best application is only as good as the network that it is built on, and most businesses don’t understand how to actually value networks, so networking has not received enough attention in the software revolution.

This is finally being addressed as the IT industry is undergoing a sea change driven by the shift from hardware to software, the promise of programmable networks, and a new, potentially game-changing technology called intent-based networking.

Intent-based Networking
Intent-based networking is an emerging approach to planning, implementing, and operating networks. It essentially allows a network administrator to specify what the network should be doing—the intent—rather than configuring its low-level behavior. It represents a transition from a decades-old way of thinking that asks, “How do I do it?” to a new networking approach that begins with, “What do I want to achieve?”

Presentations at the event focused on new solutions to efficiently speed the process of creating a network that’s more agile and responsive to business needs. Intent-based networking would significantly improve and accelerate the speed of networking by automating them.

“Automate everything,” said David Cheriton, founder and chief scientist at Apstra. “The people build the robots, and the robots build the network.”

Intent-based networking is a nascent technology, but digital-native companies like Google, Amazon, and Facebook have employed network automation using mostly their own proprietary software for years. They shared insights from their experiences, as did speakers from Netflix, LinkedIn, Bloomberg, Electronic Arts, Oracle, and VMware.

Key Themes and Takeaways
Along with intent-based networking, key themes that emerged from FUTURE:NET included the profound shift from hardware to software, the evolution of programmable networks via virtualized infrastructure, the rise of open source software as a resource for innovation, and the issue of “build vs. buy” when it comes to executing on a networking strategy.

“Innovation in networking has historically been driven by hardware. It was all about speeds and feeds,” said Rajiv Ramaswami, VMware’s COO for products and cloud services. Now it’s all about applications that can run anywhere, from an on-premises data center to multiple public clouds. “The future is all about software,” he said.

In concert with this evolution, an arsenal of open source software tools has emerged to give developers new ways to accelerate application development and production deployment. The result is a new continuum for businesses between “pure buy” and “pure build” that potentially transforms networking planning and budgeting.

Summing up many of the themes of FUTURE:NET 2017, Peter DeSantis, vice president of Global Infrastructure for Amazon Web Services, said, “The cloud has transformed the way users and practitioners interact with the network in cool and exciting ways.”

Attendees agreed that it has and that it is definitely an exciting time of transformation in networking.