The Network is More Than a Utility

by Sorell Slaymaker

Many CIO’s consider their IT infrastructure, including networking, to be the equivalent of a public utility.  The Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) market leaders Amazon, Microsoft, and maybe Oracle have furthered this notion with their on-demand, consumption based offerings of compute and storage.  Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the utility aspect of networking is just the foundation.

Large enterprises and IaaS cloud providers that treat their networks as a utility tend to dramatically overbuild their network and buy layer 1, optical, or layer 2, Ethernet, pipes.   They will then put their own layer 3 network, usually tunnel based, on top to interconnect their layer 1/2 networks.   These networks lack the end-to-end intelligence, security, and distribution that an all layer 3 network, that is session state aware, can provide.  The network vision is to enable applications to dynamically and intelligently allocate bandwidth as required.

Maslow’s hierarchy is a layered approach from the basic of human needs to self-actualization and achieving one’s full potential.  This same approach is analogous to the needs of an enterprise and their networks.

maslows qos
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Attributes of networks that make them more than a utility are:

  • Bidirectional – Being able to consume network traffic in both directions
  • Any-to-Any – Ability to talk directly to any other device on the network
  • Multiple Delivery Options – Wireline and wireless across many paths, including the last mile
  • Intelligence – Providing QoS, rate limiting, and dynamic multi-path routing
  • Security Controls – Complex security controls including; access, authentication, encryption, segmentation, and logging.
  • Application Aware – Understanding and optimizing the network for the applications that are going over it.

The network first must have all the attributes of a utility such as very high reliability, capacity on demand, and commoditized pricing.  Then, the self-awareness and intelligence to dynamically allocate the network to the user and application demands.

Oracle is about to learn this lesson the hard way.  They are spending billions of dollars for ~20 large, global data centers for their cloud services to compete with Amazon, Microsoft, SFDC, and others.  To connect to Oracle’s cloud services, one can either go through the Equinix Cloud exchange or go direct with an IPsec tunnel.  Neither of these approaches provide the dynamic, intelligent, secure, or application awareness that the cloud providers need to ensure their users have a great quality of experience.

A great application is defined by the user experience, and the only way to guarantee a great user experience is to ensure that the network is intelligent, not just a utility.