During the past 3 decades, we have seen a monumental growth in networking technology. From RFC-1163, which describes the beginnings of BGP in 1989 to the cloud and software defined networks of today, our voracious appetite for bandwidth and services have begun to outpace the networking industry’s ability to deliver.
I remember when I had my first “broadband”, and I use that term loosely, circuit installed at my house. It was a 128kbps ISDN line from my local telco. Since it was 1996, I was riding high compared to everyone else using 28.8 kpbs modems to access the internet. Today I have a 1Gbps connection that allows me to stream 4k video from multiple providers. In roughly 20 years, my consumption of bandwidth has increased 8000%!
So what is enabling this current round of growth and expansion? It boils down to two distinct items:
- New and emerging technologies
- Software is the new hardware when discussing networking
In the past few years we have seen a rapid rise in everything SD (Software Defined). We have also begun to see extensive work being handled by the IETF to define the new technology standards that will carry us into the future. Let’s look at these advancements.
We’ve seen the rise of SDWAN through companies like Cisco, CloudGenix, Viptela, Velocloud, and Aryaka. There are many more – almost too many to list. Some of these companies carried us into the world of first generation SDWAN capabilities. These Gen1 devices were based upon the premise of using a mix of MPLS and commodity internet circuits to deliver services inexpensively for businesses. Some of their features included simple dual VPN service that was secure for business transactions, basic QoS (based upon latency, jitter, and loss) across multiple links, and WAN high availability. Today there are quite a few manufacturers that have built solid products. However, very few of these manufacturers have bothered to advance their capabilities toward Gen2.
Gen2 SDWAN is where the customer finally gets control of their network – where the picture becomes carrier agnostic and the fundamental unit of operation is the application and not the network. Gen2 SDWAN frees the customer from the carrier and includes true application intelligence to allow for a policy language that aligns with business intent – applications, sites, performance, security, and compliance – rather than low-level networking rules, IP addresses, ports, and coarse traffic categorization. Fine-grained application intelligence is an important piece of the puzzle. In previous articles I have shown the difference between configuring policies for accessing Office 365 on a standard router versus an intelligent Gen2 SDWAN appliance. Defining is only the first step, you must also consider the maintenance of the solution throughout the business with dozens of SaaS solutions being employed. Routers and Gen1 SDWAN appliances require the maintenance of access-lists for both access, and QoS of the solution – or, they broadly require you to categorize traffic as Internet-bound or data center bound without the ability to distinguish what the actual application is. Well, this gets to be a problem when some of the services are integrated with CDNs, or the provider changes IP address spaces to add capacity, or you need to discern between a social network and an Internet SaaS application to adequately prioritize and control. Gen2 natively understands the application and not just from an IP and port perspective. There is only 1 manufacturer that has Gen2 figured out. I have worked on CloudGenix systems extensively and they make this part look easy.
SDLAN is a term that Cisco Systems has coined to highlight their solution that provides an overlay to the access segments of a corporate network. I guess it can be considered to apply as software defined since they have separated the layer 2 and layer 3 service logic from the data plane via the use of a controller. It is a VXLAN based overlay that provides the abstraction. I will tell you this though, it is a godsend to network engineers everywhere in a corporate environment. Imagine having the same IP address no matter where you plug into on the network! The way that Cisco has extended that to the wireless network as well, is astounding.
As we see these technologies evolve, the entire network landscape will change irreversibly and for the better. I expect soon that we will see advancements being pushed through from the IETF’s work on standards such as Segment Routing, and enhancements to, or better yet, the replacement of BGP. These advancements in application awareness, service consistency, and simplified management will drive better user experience due to an evolving level of intelligence in all layers of the network.