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While almost everyone in the tech industry is talking about the promise of cloud computing, very little dialogue focuses on the technology challenges that will need to be addressed (before enterprises fully embrace cloud computing). And it is in that blue sky between cloud vaporware and day-to-day reality on the ground that new tech fortunes will be made and lost. (See Network Automation Will Turn the Tables on Vendors and Careers.)

While Google (GOOG), Amazon (AMZN) and others have proven that public cloud computing can work (at least as a subsidized business model delivering broad tiers of services to undifferentiated users), within enterprise IT the experience has been even foggier.

From System Automation to Network Automation

The infrastructure 2.0 blog is filled with commentary from networking and virtualization pros regarding the growing “no man’s land” between ever denser and increasingly inflexible virtual networks (VLANs) and the traditional static, manually-managed physical networks. If today’s network vendors do not address the growing problems in the no man’s lands then others will.

It wasn’t that long ago when VMware (VMW) transformed the ever costlier server landscape by allowing varieties of applications and operating systems to coexist on (and across racks of) commodity blade server hardware. Isn’t it about time for a networking vendor to similarly decouple applications and operating systems from… a larger physical location?

If you think VMware unleashed new capabilities by automating systems, wait until you see what happens when the network is automated. IT could then be orchestrated by policies and closed loop processes instead of by the one-off, wasteful, slow and error-prone processes today.

Network automation will start at the core of the infrastructure, in the space which Gartner calls DDI automation, and then spread to contiguous areas, establishing powerful and strategic linkages between otherwise isolated pockets of network functionality today connected by kludge configurations, scripts and manual labor.

The manual “meat space” of the network (and therefore IT) is centered on decades-old practices and expertise that are today in the process of getting automated. This is where network automation will begin.

As network automation takes hold it will be the most significant disruption in networking since the adoption of TCP/IP. It will disconnect many of today’s giants from tomorrow’s customers.

While Yankee’s Kerravala blogs about Riding The Virtualization Wave for the Sea Change in IT Management Software Market, his comments are equally applicable to the networking industry and the opportunities for vendors to bridge the gap between virtual and physical networks. From Zeus Kerravala, Yankee Group blog, March 2010:

In contrast, I continue to wonder about other parts of the tech sector where those milking their cash cows are rapidly becoming obsolete. A glaring example of this is the IT management software market, where the “big 4” framework vendors about to find out how far behind the times their products are. Sure we all read about the piecemeal acquisitions that HP, IBM, CA and BMC make (see CA’s latest Nimsoft), but in effect they are stagnating while VMware is re-defining the landscape.

Virtualization management is ultimately where these vendors will run their course in this market. Everyday, dozens of elements managed in their frameworks are “falling off the grid” and popping up somewhere in VMware’s vCenter–which is rapidly evolving into the new dashboard for the new IT organization. Yet, VMware is not sticking it to the big guys on their own, they are fostering a whole marketplace of start-ups allowing them to leverage their APIs and their virtual appliance construct.

The Eventuality of VLAN Congestion

If you accept the eventuality of IT automation then you should at least begin to accept the obsolescence of the VLAN barrier, in terms of size, density and flexibility. The VLAN is, after all, a workaround that is essential today because the physical network is not flexible enough for the pace of change enabled by system virtualization; and yet the operating benefits of virtualization are hamstrung by the VLAN as it is increasingly populated by virtual machines (and as large amounts of VLANs are deployed).

Today this is only true for large enterprises who have found the limits. But the prospect of having so many IT assets beyond the visibility and reach of the network can be horrifying to teams responsible for the network’s availability and integrity while dealing with differentiated users, applications and systems.

Last week at Cloud Connect Infrastructure 2.0 track executives from Citrix (CTXS), Cisco (CSCO), F5 (FFIV), Infoblox, Riverbed (RVBD) and other companies talked about the need for the network to evolve. At Interop on April 27th a two hour panel on Why Networking Must Fundamentally Change moderated by Jim Metzler of Ashton Metzler should prove to be equally thought-provoking. I’ll be hanging out at the Infoblox booth (427) in case you want to grab a cup of coffee.

In May I’ll be moderating an infrastructure 2.0 panel at Future in Review. The panel includes Citrix CTO Simon Crosby, Cisco’s Technical Chief of Staff, Office of CTO Glenn Dasmalchi, former Sun CTO Cloud Lew Tucker and Infoblox Orchestration GM Richard Kagan.

Future in Review will be May 11-14 at the Terranea Resort at Palos Verdes, California. You can register here.

Some of my favorite posts about infrastructure 2.0:

Disclosure: Author holds a long position in HPQ] and EMC (holder of VMW)

Source: The Great Enterprise Cloud Head Fake