SDN Journal Authors: Liz McMillan, Jerry Melnick, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Esmeralda Swartz

Blog Feed Post

Dijkstra the SDN Prophet: Programs vs. Machines

As I was writing my blog entry for today, a colleague (Nils Swart) sent me an email with a 30-page attachment – a handwritten paper penned by the Dutch computer scientist Edsger Dijkstra (famous for his contributions to distributed computing, and some algorithms that might be important to you if you are in the networking business). The paper is a draft of a speech entitled “On the cruelty of really teaching computer science“.

I have to be honest – when the email came in, I scanned the document and saw that it was 30 pages long. Having never read this before, my first reaction was TL;DR. But after a couple of email exchanges on the merits of the paper, I dug in.

There are two comments that I want to call out in the paper that I think are particularly apropos to where we are today as an industry. In the second paragraph on page 1, Dijkstra writes:

“The usual way in which we plan today for tomorrow is in yesterday’s vocabulary. We do so, because we try to get away with the concepts we are familiar with and that have acquired their meanings in our past experience. Of course, the words and the concepts don’t quite fit because our future differs from our past, but then we stretch them a little bit.”

It’s an interesting challenge to describe the future. When that future is disruptive rather than derivative, that challenge intensifies. I imagine that is a major contributor to the networking industry’s intellectual grappling with SDN over the last several years.

Those that understood implicitly before SDN went mainstream what it is and what it could achieve are cut from a different cloth. The Nick McKeown’s and Scott Shenker’s of the world see things differently. Working in close proximity, they likely developed their own language for describing things, not unlike families adopt their own unique linguistic twists. It is not unsurprising that their thoughts did not translate immediately to something the rest of the populace could consume. And even when it was consumed, many of the details were either morphed, glossed over lightly, or missed entirely.

Dijkstra’s words also resonate with me as I look at how major concepts and company positions are explained. Nicira/VMWare has been quite successful in making the comparison between what they do and server virtualization. Though I suspect Dijkstra would cringe at the abuse of the analogy because it leads to some faulty assumptions and simplifications that likely don’t hold across such different disciplines.

But it raises the question: how will these dialogues evolve over time? As we move past storytelling, through proof of concept, and into deployments, the details will become more clear to a larger part of the user base. An SDN vocabulary that is more organic will emerge. The result should be a simpler, better understood, and very likely more honest dialogue about SDN. We should be able to naturally move past the need to label things, which will make us less interested in definitions and who is SDN-washing their products and more interested in architectural descriptors that actually impact design decisions.

It’s hard to say with certainty when this happens, but certainly real-world deployments will feed the etymological change. And I find this encouraging because a common vocabulary will refocus the industry chatter on the things that matter.

I believe Dijkstra would agree as he concludes: “…in the case of a sharp discontinuity, however, the method breaks down: though we may glorify it with the name “common sense”, our past experience is no longer relevant, the analogies become too shallow, and metaphors become more misleading than illuminating.”

Later in the speech, Dijkstra makes another seemingly prophetic remark:

“It is no longer the purpose of programs to instruct our machines; it is the purpose of machines to execute our programs.”

For decades, we have built bigger and faster routers and switches. We have introduced an unfathomable number of features and capabilities into these devices. And then we have told our operators to specify with ridiculous precision what the behavior should be, on a device-by-device basis. So complex is this web of knobs and doodads that we have built very lucrative businesses around training and certification. And in the end, to be functional in a real-world setting, our network engineers are required to be semantic experts rather than architects. It’s no wonder that the best that most environments can handle are small incremental changes and month-long frozen periods around important dates.

The introduction of even spoonfuls of change to an environment like this is terrifying. If we really want to unlock the power of SDN, we have to change not just our tools and our certifications; we have to change the entire way we think about the devices that underpin our networks.

We need to view the network as a set of machines whose purpose it is to execute our programs. Our programs ought to look less like a collection of knobs and more like a set of behaviors and requirements. These abstractions are the programs of our infrastructure. And the routers and switches – be they physical or virtual – should exist solely to execute these programs.

But this is more than a push for abstraction. As a workforce, are our network architects and network operators prepared to live in a world where they are expected to be articulators of intent rather than masters of implementation? We have become addicted to our knobs. We are drunk with the precise power over behavior that they provide. And complexity is the unfortunately necessary hangover that we all wake up to the next day.

How people cope with the hangover will vary. I believe there are some who can give up the knobs cold turkey and never look back. But I fear there is an entire class of user that will reach for more Hair of the Dog.

[Today's fun fact: The sound of E.T. walking was made by someone squishing her hands in jelly. I don't know what is more interesting, the jelly or the fact that it was a she.]

The post Dijkstra the SDN Prophet: Programs vs. Machines appeared first on Plexxi.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Michael Bushong

The best marketing efforts leverage deep technology understanding with a highly-approachable means of communicating. Plexxi's Vice President of Marketing Michael Bushong has acquired these skills having spent 12 years at Juniper Networks where he led product management, product strategy and product marketing organizations for Juniper's flagship operating system, Junos. Michael spent the last several years at Juniper leading their SDN efforts across both service provider and enterprise markets. Prior to Juniper, Michael spent time at database supplier Sybase, and ASIC design tool companies Synopsis and Magma Design Automation. Michael's undergraduate work at the University of California Berkeley in advanced fluid mechanics and heat transfer lend new meaning to the marketing phrase "This isn't rocket science."

Cloud Expo Breaking News
Next-Gen Cloud. Whatever you call it, there’s a higher calling for cloud computing that requires providers to change their spots and move from a commodity mindset to a premium one. Businesses can no longer maintain the status quo that today’s service providers offer. Yes, the continuity, speed, mobility, data access and connectivity are staples of the cloud and always will be. But cloud providers that plan to not only exist tomorrow – but to lead – know that security must be the top priority for the cloud and are delivering it now. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Kurt Hagerman, Chief Information Security Officer at FireHost, will detail why and how you can have both infrastructure performance and enterprise-grade security – and what tomorrow's cloud provider will look like.
The social media expansion has shown just how people are eager to share their experiences with the rest of the world. Cloud technology is the perfect platform to satisfy this need given its great flexibility and readiness. At Cynny, we aim to revolutionize how people share and organize their digital life through a brand new cloud service, starting from infrastructure to the users’ interface. A revolution that began from inventing and designing our very own infrastructure: we have created the first server network powered solely by ARM CPU. The microservers have “organism-like” features, differentiating them from any of the current technologies. Benefits include low consumption of energy, making Cynny the ecologically friendly alternative for storage as well as cheaper infrastructure, lower running costs, etc.
Cloud backup and recovery services are critical to safeguarding an organization’s data and ensuring business continuity when technical failures and outages occur. With so many choices, how do you find the right provider for your specific needs? In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Daniel Jacobson, Technology Manager at BUMI, will outline the key factors including backup configurations, proactive monitoring, data restoration, disaster recovery drills, security, compliance and data center resources. Aside from the technical considerations, the secret sauce in identifying the best vendor is the level of focus, expertise and specialization of their engineering team and support group, and how they monitor your day-to-day backups, provide recommendations, and guide you through restores when necessary.
Web conferencing in a public cloud has the same risks as any other cloud service. If you have ever had concerns over the types of data being shared in your employees’ web conferences, such as IP, financials or customer data, then it’s time to look at web conferencing in a private cloud. In her session at 14th Cloud Expo, Courtney Behrens, Senior Marketing Manager at Brother International, will discuss how issues that had previously been out of your control, like performance, advanced administration and compliance, can now be put back behind your firewall.
Cloud scalability and performance should be at the heart of every successful Internet venture. The infrastructure needs to be resilient, flexible, and fast – it’s best not to get caught thinking about architecture until the middle of an emergency, when it's too late. In his interactive, no-holds-barred session at 14th Cloud Expo, Phil Jackson, Development Community Advocate for SoftLayer, will dive into how to design and build-out the right cloud infrastructure.
The revolution that happened in the server universe over the past 15 years has resulted in an eco-system that is more open, more democratically innovative and produced better results in technically challenging dimensions like scale. The underpinnings of the revolution were common hardware, standards based APIs (ex. POSIX) and a strict adherence to layering and isolation between applications, daemons and kernel drivers/modules which allowed multiple types of development happen in parallel without hindering others. Put simply, today's server model is built on a consistent x86 platform with few surprises in its core components. A kernel abstracts away the platform, so that applications and daemons are decoupled from the hardware. In contrast, networking equipment is still stuck in the mainframe era. Today, networking equipment is a single appliance, including hardware, OS, applications and user interface come as a monolithic entity from a single vendor. Switching between different vendor'...
More and more enterprises today are doing business by opening up their data and applications through APIs. Though forward-thinking and strategic, exposing APIs also increases the surface area for potential attack by hackers. To benefit from APIs while staying secure, enterprises and security architects need to continue to develop a deep understanding about API security and how it differs from traditional web application security or mobile application security. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Sachin Agarwal, VP of Product Marketing and Strategy at SOA Software, will walk you through the various aspects of how an API could be potentially exploited. He will discuss the necessary best practices to secure your data and enterprise applications while continue continuing to support your business’s digital initiatives.
You use an agile process; your goal is to make your organization more agile. What about your data infrastructure? The truth is, today’s databases are anything but agile – they are effectively static repositories that are cumbersome to work with, difficult to change, and cannot keep pace with application demands. Performance suffers as a result, and it takes far longer than it should to deliver on new features and capabilities needed to make your organization competitive. As your application and business needs change, data repositories and structures get outmoded rapidly, resulting in increased work for application developers and slow performance for end users. Further, as data sizes grow into the Big Data realm, this problem is exacerbated and becomes even more difficult to address. A seemingly simple schema change can take hours (or more) to perform, and as requirements evolve the disconnect between existing data structures and actual needs diverge.
SYS-CON Events announced today that SherWeb, a long-time leading provider of cloud services and Microsoft's 2013 World Hosting Partner of the Year, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 14th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 10–12, 2014, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. A worldwide hosted services leader ranking in the prestigious North American Deloitte Technology Fast 500TM, and Microsoft's 2013 World Hosting Partner of the Year, SherWeb provides competitive cloud solutions to businesses and partners around the world. Founded in 1998, SherWeb is a privately owned company headquartered in Quebec, Canada. Its service portfolio includes Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Dynamics CRM and more.
The world of cloud and application development is not just for the hardened developer these days. In their session at 14th Cloud Expo, Phil Jackson, Development Community Advocate for SoftLayer, and Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, will pull back the curtain of the architecture of a fun demo application purpose-built for the cloud. They will focus on demonstrating how they leveraged compute, storage, messaging, and other cloud elements hosted at SoftLayer to lower the effort and difficulty of putting together a useful application. This will be an active demonstration and review of simple command-line tools and resources, so don’t be afraid if you are not a seasoned developer.
SYS-CON Events announced today that BUMI, a premium managed service provider specializing in data backup and recovery, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 14th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 10–12, 2014, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. Manhattan-based BUMI (Backup My Info!) is a premium managed service provider specializing in data backup and recovery. Founded in 2002, the company’s Here, There and Everywhere data backup and recovery solutions are utilized by more than 500 businesses. BUMI clients include professional service organizations such as banking, financial, insurance, accounting, hedge funds and law firms. The company is known for its relentless passion for customer service and support, and has won numerous awards, including Customer Service Provider of the Year and 10 Best Companies to Work For.
Chief Security Officers (CSO), CIOs and IT Directors are all concerned with providing a secure environment from which their business can innovate and customers can safely consume without the fear of Distributed Denial of Service attacks. To be successful in today's hyper-connected world, the enterprise needs to leverage the capabilities of the web and be ready to innovate without fear of DDoS attacks, concerns about application security and other threats. Organizations face great risk from increasingly frequent and sophisticated attempts to render web properties unavailable, and steal intellectual property or personally identifiable information. Layered security best practices extend security beyond the data center, delivering DDoS protection and maintaining site performance in the face of fast-changing threats.
From data center to cloud to the network. In his session at 3rd SDDC Expo, Raul Martynek, CEO of Net Access, will identify the challenges facing both data center providers and enterprise IT as they relate to cross-platform automation. He will then provide insight into designing, building, securing and managing the technology as an integrated service offering. Topics covered include: High-density data center design Network (and SDN) integration and automation Cloud (and hosting) infrastructure considerations Monitoring and security Management approaches Self-service and automation
In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, David Holmes, Vice President at OutSystems, will demonstrate the immense power that lives at the intersection of mobile apps and cloud application platforms. Attendees will participate in a live demonstration – an enterprise mobile app will be built and changed before their eyes – on their own devices. David Holmes brings over 20 years of high-tech marketing leadership to OutSystems. Prior to joining OutSystems, he was VP of Global Marketing for Damballa, a leading provider of network security solutions. Previously, he was SVP of Global Marketing for Jacada where his branding and positioning expertise helped drive the company from start-up days to a $55 million initial public offering on Nasdaq.
Performance is the intersection of power, agility, control, and choice. If you value performance, and more specifically consistent performance, you need to look beyond simple virtualized compute. Many factors need to be considered to create a truly performant environment. In his General Session at 14th Cloud Expo, Marc Jones, Vice President of Product Innovation for SoftLayer, will explain how to take advantage of a multitude of compute options and platform features to make cloud the cornerstone of your online presence.