The Network of the Future in a Virtualized World

The future of networking is coming, and it will be infrastructure-independent. The broad outlines of this new world can already be seen in the design of new “serverless computing” service offerings such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda.

AWS Lambda (unlike traditional IaaS) doesn’t require any computing infrastructure to be explicitly provisioned by the user. With infrastructure-independent networking, provisioning of network hardware will also become a thing of the past. The network of the future will be modules of software that are invoked according to application needs. It will demand a shift in mindset: from thinking about configuring devices to deploying software that delivers the necessary networking capabilities. And according to Bruce Davie, VMware’s VP and CTO, APJ, a primary enabler of these transformational changes is network virtualization.

A Fork in the Road
“IT today is at a fork in the road,” Davie says. If it continues in one direction, the lines of business (LOBs) will go around IT and render it irrelevant. Davie calls that “the dystopian view of IT.” If it takes the other fork, he says, “IT will become an enabler of the business, and provide the things the business needs: security, efficiency, and the networking services that applications need.”

But there’s a catch: IT will need to deliver these services without owning the cloud-based and other third-party applications for which they will be defined.

The fact is, IT cannot supply the organization with the business applications and services it needs quickly and efficiently enough using today’s manual and predominantly hardware-based networking model. And, for their part, businesses are not going to change the way they want to pull applications from public clouds. The LOBs are not going to return to IT to fulfill those requests—that ship has sailed. “But they will still want IT to ensure business policies, security, and compliance,” says Davie.

Lagging Behind
To thrive in this changing network environment, IT will need to be much more software-oriented. It will need to automate the provisioning process, and offer the agility that modern clouds provide. And in order to accomplish that, networking needs to fundamentally change.

The central problem is that networking lags behind other technologies that allow developers to innovate and provision services faster. New deployment models, such as cloud and containers, just don’t relate well to the way traditional networks operate. “Containers can be spun up on many different clouds and devices,” Davie explains. “That allows for a much more dynamic environment.” To keep pace, he continues, “networking needs to change.”

Today’s networking model is IP-location based. This “address model” just isn’t designed for an environment in which virtualization renders physical location largely irrelevant. Another problem with the present networking model is the physical infrastructure itself: it’s (relatively) static and inflexible. To deliver the agility demanded by the business requires an API-driven networking model that is free and independent of the physical infrastructure: a virtualized network.

Intent-based Networking
A software-defined, infrastructure-independent network allows for the introduction of what is becoming known as “intent-based networking.” In this new networking architecture, the business “can start to specify intent,” says Davie. “It’s a new way of thinking about networking.” Once programmed with the right software, it allows the network to precisely and automatically implement the security, compliance, or other needs of its applications moving across clouds and containers.

This new virtualized networking model will restore and support the bridge between IT and the business. The LOB will know that its requests for new cloud services or applications will be processed quickly and efficiently with virtually no lag time. And LOB requests will be programmed into the network using standard software interfaces that will automatically handle the ensuing security and other needs. “The result,” says Davie, “will instantly satisfy the request from a business requirement and business application need.”

As he looks at the two possible futures in store for IT, Davie is an optimist. He is confident that the enterprise will embrace the future represented by the new infrastructure-independent networking model. “I believe that IT will take this path because we have always been partners to business,” Davie concludes. “We have always helped businesses do things better, quicker, more effectively, and more securely.” And powered by the capabilities of the infrastructure-independent network of the future in a virtualized world, IT will continue in that role.