Feeding on More Than Speed

March 28, 2014 Jonathan Morin

I always found “speeds and feeds” to be a silly term in networks, having originally come from the world of mechanical tools.  It also seemed to write off the importance of network capacity or latency requirements.  Then finally, it just sounds silly, doesn’t it?  In more recent years however, as the industry converges on its ability to deliver in that regard, “speeds and feeds” has come into my vernacular as well, and with the same derisive tone that seems to be used by everyone else.

A few years ago the IT / networking industry already started to recognize that while capacity and speed are critical requirements for a network, meeting those requirements was no longer biggest challenge.  Much more pressing, was managing the tree of “tubes” (network connections).  Now you’re thinking, “This is a stale conversation.  What about SDN!”  Yes, SDN.  Certainly in the public eye, we all acknowledge that the ability to manage and orchestrate services while having visibility into how they’re used is a much more prominent challenge these days than is building big enough pipes.  Even the spend from network equipment manufacturers on software acquisitions should show how serious they are about solving the bigger picture.  And yet in reality, we still see a majority of many network upgrade conversation spent being concerned with speeds.  Of course the importance of capacity and delay hasn’t lessened in the slightest, if anything it has only increased, but the concerning part is those instances when the various critical management issues are overlooked.

Today, thankfully, I believe many now agree that the paradigm shift the “SDN conversation” (for lack of a better word) has brought is about more than just one single reason.  Some talk about automation – definitely valid.  Some talk about economics – also valid.  Some argue about whether the separation of software and hardware is important – I’d say sometimes yes sometimes no, so again that point is of course valid.   There’s also the question of scaling a network of constantly changing dynamic services, or the point of more accessible visibility into network – all valid.  To me personally, SDN is the word that summarizes all of these needs, and the exciting innovation that can come when they’re met.  What isn’t discussed (at least in the public conversation) when it comes to SDN?  Speeds and feeds.  Thankfully.

Between the explosion of end systems that the Internet of Things has even yet to scratch the surface of (more on this topic later), and the uptake in cloud services (or simply just the way that content is delivered to people by data centers in general) there’s no question that data rates are going to continue to erupt.  To those working on the next generation of Ethernet, wireless, and other physical medium standards – unless using data more efficiently really becomes a major trend (not likely) – your job is quite secure, and please keep it up.   But, those who actually manage networks and have only “speeds and feeds” in mind, are missing out.  They’re overlooking and are possibly unaware of how easy it already is today to view and control all traffic and experiences delivered by the network.

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