Network evolution

Every once in a while a subtle evolutionary change occurs that dramatically affects the future of networking. As IT is making a dramatic transition to an SOA, the networking industry has been hesitant to embrace and commit to the transition.

Early attempts by such vendors as Cisco to create unique application-oriented networking architectures have met with corporate resistance. The first real change of networking direction came from Alcatel-Lucent in the service provider market with the successful introduction of the concept of a Services Router.

Initially an aggressive marketing tactic to differentiate from the classic IP Router, the Services Router has recently evolved into a useful infrastructure tool to flatten over architected hierarchical IP Service Provider networks. The concept has become so successful that other vendors such as Juniper have recently released competitive products.

In the corporate environment, the evolution to services-centric networking was initially directed at WAN optimization of XML-based Web services application traffic flows. That technology is now universally accepted as a network/application optimization tactic. Stimulated by this success, vendors have begun to release products that are taking the next steps in the evolution to true services-centric networking.

Cisco has released its strategy for the transformation of the data centre from what it believed were discrete silos for servers, storage, LAN, SAN, applications and security into an intelligent services-centric fabric. This fabric is based upon Service/File/Virtual Machine Virtualization, Adaptive Orchestration based upon Automated Provisioning of Physical/Virtualized Resources and Self-Diagnosis/Maintenance, Data Encryption/Migration, End-to-End Applications Monitoring and Unified I/O and Network Fabric/Transport. Cisco calls this concept Data Centre 3.0.

Although a major step in the evolution of service-centric networking, there are major issues with this concept. The issues are, for the most part, philosophical and organizational in nature. Cisco’s definitions are not the same as the IT industry’s definitions within an SOA. There is no stated integration with Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), business process and applications development SOA-based software.

This will no doubt lead to a considerable state of confusion in discussions among corporate IT and networking personnel. The IT industry has for decades relied upon the operations software from an intimate set of known software vendors. Cisco is not one of these classic IT operations software vendors. In addition, the transference of legacy IT responsibility to the networking organization should not be a step without concern, especially with respect to corporate governance/compliance oversight.

Corente is taking another approach to drive the evolution to service-centric networking. Corente is WAN-centric, using layered software-as-a-service solutions to secure, deliver and manage distributed IP-based business services, applications and processes end-to-end across diverse infrastructures, networks, applications and service providers.

Although having some degree of overlap with the Cisco Data Centre 3.0 concept, the Corente approach is SOA compliant through use of a software Application Gateway at all endpoints in the network and uses of out-of-band connectivity to a Policy Directory. This allows for Embedded Instrumentation/Security, Automated Connectivity Management, Dynamic Management (monitoring, alerting and reporting) of Business Partner/Service Provider/Service/Application/Business Process Performance and Remote Service/Application Software Maintenance/Management.

An SOA assumes that business practices and processes are the driving force behind the implementation of IT applications and associated technology infrastructure. The use of existing technology investments is a sound business practice that must always be leveraged against the introduction of new services.

The Corente approach allows for the use of existing investment by overlaying SOA-compliant software on the network. The Corente approach has the ability to link SLAs and other performance metrics to services, applications and processes independent of legacy investment, partner, service provider or infrastructure will significantly escalate the evolution to services-centric networking.

Business and technology services are the underlying basis for all IT implementations going forward in this decade. The networking industry is in the earliest and most formative stages of that evolution. But one fact has become self-evident. The transition and evolution of the data centre and its partner the corporate network into a comprehensive SOA-compliant services-centric environment will occur and it’s called the Services Centre.

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