While its concepts are nothing new, software-defined networking (SDN) is certainly reborn and is achieving new milestones. Many enterprises and service providers are in various stages of the SDN lifecycle — whether researching, planning, designing, implementing or maintaining.
This paradigm shift is still in its early years and I do not believe it has finished evolving. There’s been an inception of several derivatives over the past few years, mostly via marketing terms: software-defined storage, software-defined data center, etc. And all deliver different things depending on the vendor. The SDN sky is the limit. Or is it?
First, an NSX Test Drive
Many of the industry’s initial questions will soon be answered. That’s because FireHost is in the final stages of pre-production deployment of the VMware NSX platform — which we vetted diligently against Cisco’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) before making a decision — across the entire customer infrastructure.
In reality, it’s likely more like the first year of ownership than a casual test drive. We’re one of the first end consumers to be this far into deployment. And we’ve learned a lot during the last three quarters. FireHost is a real-world user of the SDN model. We’ve got a lot to learn, most of which we’ll share with SDxCentral as we push toward a go-live date later in the year.
3 Early Tips to NSX Deployment
As is typical with vision and innovation, there’s a good amount of marketing hype promoting SDN. To complement, balance or validate that message, we can offer real-world experiences through our lens. For example, consider the following three key points that could define the success of your NSX deployment: architecture, operations and automation.
Architecture — From the onset, it was clear that architecture would be a critical component. Simply, design with the end in mind. It requires planning, strategy, patience and vision, but can be achieved by setting attainable transition steps to help guide you toward the final goal.
Operations — Once your new NSX environment is designed, skilled teams will be tasked with managing it. Be aware that there exist many new methods for monitoring, managing and troubleshooting the environment. In fact, some previous tools — which you rely on or feel comfortable using — may no longer work.
Automation — This may be the most valuable component. So much of the power of NSX is tied to automation via APIs. What once took teams weeks to deploy can be properly automated and spun up within an hour. To realize this level of automation, start early. Scope the project appropriately. Get APIs in front of developers early. Then use that planning and diligence to execute.
On the whole, the NSX experience has been informative and productive. Like any major shift in architecture, we’ve had hiccups (e.g., scalability, API integration, kernel functionality) along the way. During implementation and testing, we’ve fixed issues and exploited many of the discussed benefits.
And many of the SDN promises are as advertised. So far, the transition from the SDN concept to SDx execution is real.
From SDN to ‘SDx’
SDN is just the beginning. From here, SDx will only be limited by our imagination, where new possibilities and innovation will validate the meaning of the term. Compute, storage and network are the hardware pillars of all IT companies, but what else in the IT world could be software-defined?
As FireHost learns during this company-wide migration, we’ve had the opportunity to see what the future may hold.
Software-Defined Security – From logical to physical security, this will keep us all very busy for many years to come. The solutions available today have only skimmed the surface of addressing the security needs of the multitude. It requires deep vendor integration via APIs. Many security products still have no APIs available. Programmability is key for SDx to become a reality and offer true value to its consumers.
Software-Defined Operations – All the APIs in the world won’t do you a lick of good if you are not devoted to automation, as mentioned. That’s one of the promises of SDx: to have a programmatic interface to push configuration changes into hardware for error-free provisioning/de-provisioning purposes or to respond to a condition in the platform or network resulting in a more favorable quality of service.
Software-Defined Management – This entity brings it all together into a single pane of glass. This is where so many vendors fall short in their product suites. They may have a product that performs well and is feature-rich, but when that breaks — and it will — are the necessary tools available to determine the root causes of issues easily and quickly?
The above are obviously broad concepts. The real value lies in the application and implementation of these concepts to real-world use cases. Specific use cases identify pain points that enterprises and service providers feel on a daily basis in their networks. These range from operational to scalability issues.
I have no doubt that SDx will continue to evolve at a rapid pace and offer new and exciting solutions. And as FireHost prepares for a 2015 launch, we will see firsthand how ready it is to deliver the promises of scalability, cost-effectiveness, security and performance.