Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Gil Allouche, Lori MacVittie, Dana Gardner

Related Topics: Virtualization

Virtualization: Blog Post

Network abstractions need equivalent of packet walkthrough

Some people will justify the depth by talking about troubleshooting complex systems

Whenever a new networking platform is evaluated, one of the early sales calls includes a packet walkthrough. In excruciating detail, someone walks the customer through the path a packet takes from ingress port, through the device, across the switching or routing ASIC, and back down to the egress port. The technical deep dive frequently includes internals that even the vendor engineers are not all familiar with.

But why?

Some people will justify the depth by talking about troubleshooting complex systems. Others will pull on random technical details that suggest one platform is better than another in some regard or under some set of circumstances. Others will actually parrot some of the vendor’s marketing efforts with claims of flexibility, scalability, or extensibility.

While all of these are absolutely valid, they actually miss the biggest reason the packet walkthrough is a ubiquitous part of every selling motion.

Get comfortable

We networking gearheads are a skeptical lot. We learned long ago that listening to someone and taking their words for granted was a short path to operational hell. Their words might have sounded true but their promises rang hollow. The platform, or even the architecture, did not perform as advertised. And because the result of a network failure is catastrophically worse than any other infrastructure failure, we have collectively vowed to look at every opportunity with a sideways glance from a somewhat disbelieving perspective.

Trust but verify

The real reason that we evaluate in such detail new platforms and solutions is not because of the inherent troubleshooting value of examining the architecture. Nor is it because we can determine with any certainty what the scaling limits are based on a cursory glance at the internals of a system. We examine architectures in detail because it allows us to put the vendor under a bit of scrutiny. If they stand up to a few somewhat randomly placed questions (less random if you have had particularly painful issues in the past), then we believe with a bit more certainty other claims that are made.

I don’t mention this because I think this is a bad way to do things, mind you. Rather, I bring this up because the collective psyche of the networking buyer needs to be understood if architectural advances like SDN and abstractions are to bring any any real value.

Control freaks and abstraction

Networking generally has operated through meticulous control for decades. Network management via configuration knob puts a ton of power at the hands of the network architect. Behavior can be precisely specified. And when something goes wrong, it can be queried to surmise the cause.

A shift to abstractions might make things easier in terms of actual physical workload (how much typing there is), but it comes with a gigantic leap of faith. Control freaks might complain about how much effort things are, but they absolutely cringe at the thought of giving any of that work up lest something go wrong.

When behavior is specified by an abstraction (as with an edge policy abstraction), not only must the syntax be correct but also the translation of that abstraction into underlying behavior. The former is easy to verify, but the latter requires a bit of faith on behalf of the user that the vendor has done the right thing under the hood.

A peek under the hood

There are already a bunch of industry efforts around SDN and abstractions. Whether it’s vendor-specific (as with Cisco’s ACI) or a part of open source (OpenDaylight, for example), there are a number of movements that either focus on or include some abstraction as part of the solution. But if our past teaches us anything, it is that network architects are not happy with a basic understanding of what the abstractions do. They require additional information so they have at least some concept of how they do it.

It would seem that people peddling abstractions will ultimately need to provide the equivalent of a packet walkthrough. With platforms, this is easy. Where does the packet physically enter the device, and where does it leave? But with abstractions, the equivalent is a bit harder.

Abstraction walkthroughs

Initially, this dynamic favors abstractions that merely replace well-understood configuration with something less. The abstraction walkthrough for a replacement is essentially an expansion of the abstraction into the underlying configuration knobs. Think of this as more indirection than abstraction, more similar to header files than anything else.

But if abstractions are about more than saving keystrokes, this type of walkthrough will not permit itself for even slightly more complex scenarios. This leaves the abstraction salesperson in a tough spot: how do you demonstrate that something works if you cannot provide a meaningful look at the internals?

Behavior determines success

The long-term answer here is going to necessarily fall to actual behavior. The creators of abstractions will need to show in the affirmative that the network (or the applications) behave appropriately when an abstraction is used. This might seem obvious, but the implications are actually quite profound.

For networks today, there are lots of ways to verify specific state in the network (BGP neighbors, interface stats, and so on). And when there is no network state, the configuration itself serves as the check. But what if that configuration is not there?

In the long term, the infrastructure broadly (including but not limited to the network) will need to be instrumented with meaningful abstractions in mind. If abstractions become common around managing edge policy, there will need to be additional ways to instrument specific applications, tenants, and flows. For example, if abstractions allow network engineers to specify a particular application as PCI compliant, then there might need to be ways to verify PCI compliance via command.

The bottom line

The abstraction market initially will be focused on keyboard time reduction. That is a fine place to start, and it is easy to verify. But if the real value of abstractions is in the removal of complexity (not just masking it) and the increased collaboration of infrastructure, then abstraction salespeople are going to need to think through the post-sales elements of their products. Those that do this early will certainly find that having an abstraction walkthrough shortens the evaluation time for new solutions. And if no one else has done this, the existence of such a walkthrough could prove a killer element of the product sales cycle.

[Today’s fun fact: Right-handed people tend to chew food on the right side of their mouths, and lefties on the left side.]

The post Network abstractions need equivalent of packet walkthrough 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."

@CloudExpo Stories
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Some developers believe that monitoring is a function of the operations team. Some operations teams firmly believe that monitoring the systems they maintain is sufficient to run the business successfully. Most of them are wrong. The complexity of today's applications have gone far and beyond the capabilities of "traditional" system-level monitoring tools and approaches and requires much broader knowledge of business and applications as a whole. The goal of DevOps is to connect all aspects of app...
The 4th International DevOps Summit, co-located with16th International Cloud Expo – being held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's large...
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionalit...
When an enterprise builds a hybrid IaaS cloud connecting its data center to one or more public clouds, security is often a major topic along with the other challenges involved. Security is closely intertwined with the networking choices made for the hybrid cloud. Traditional networking approaches for building a hybrid cloud try to kludge together the enterprise infrastructure with the public cloud. Consequently this approach requires risky, deep "surgery" including changes to firewalls, subnets...
Want to enable self-service provisioning of application environments in minutes that mirror production? Can you automatically provide rich data with code-level detail back to the developers when issues occur in production? In his session at DevOps Summit, David Tesar, Microsoft Technical Evangelist on Microsoft Azure and DevOps, will discuss how to accomplish this and more utilizing technologies such as Microsoft Azure, Visual Studio online, and Application Insights in this demo-heavy session.
DevOps is all about agility. However, you don't want to be on a high-speed bus to nowhere. The right DevOps approach controls velocity with a tight feedback loop that not only consists of operational data but also incorporates business context. With a business context in the decision making, the right business priorities are incorporated, which results in a higher value creation. In his session at DevOps Summit, Todd Rader, Solutions Architect at AppDynamics, discussed key monitoring techniques...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and asse...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
SYS-CON Media announced that Centrify, a provider of unified identity management across cloud, mobile and data center environments that delivers single sign-on (SSO) for users and a simplified identity infrastructure for IT, has launched an ad campaign on Cloud Computing Journal. The ads focus on security: how an organization can successfully control privilege for all of the organization’s identities to mitigate identity-related risk without slowing down the business, and how Centrify provides ...
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrateg...
"We help companies that are using a lot of Software as a Service. We help companies manage and gain visibility into what people are using inside the company and decide to secure them or use standards to lock down or to embrace the adoption of SaaS inside the company," explained Scott Kriz, Co-founder and CEO of Bitium, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"SAP had made a big transition into the cloud as we believe it has significant value for our customers, drives innovation and is easy to consume. When you look at the SAP portfolio, SAP HANA is the underlying platform and it powers all of our platforms and all of our analytics," explained Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce at SAP, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device exp...
SAP is delivering break-through innovation combined with fantastic user experience powered by the market-leading in-memory technology, SAP HANA. In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Thorsten Leiduck, VP ISVs & Digital Commerce, SAP, discussed how SAP and partners provide cloud and hybrid cloud solutions as well as real-time Big Data offerings that help companies of all sizes and industries run better. SAP launched an application challenge to award the most innovative SAP HANA and SAP HANA...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps,...
"Cloud consumption is something we envision at Solgenia. That is trying to let the cloud spread to the user as a consumption, as utility computing. We want to allow the people to just pay for what they use, not a subscription model," explained Ermanno Bonifazi, CEO & Founder of Solgenia, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. Acco...
"For the past 4 years we have been working mainly to export. For the last 3 or 4 years the main market was Russia. In the past year we have been working to expand our footprint in Europe and the United States," explained Andris Gailitis, CEO of DEAC, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective ...