The Battle for the Top of the Rack

August 28, 2013 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

The Battlefield between Sysadmin and Netadmin

The fight for control between sysadmin and network admin has been going on for decades but the boundary line had been pretty static. Anything that ran a full OS and was a end node was is a server is under server ops while anything that connected the servers together was a network device and was under the control of network operations.

If you look at the progression of the two side through the last two decades, you will realize that the server and server OS have gone through change after change with new software packaging system, virtualization, density of servers per rack, and so on while the networking technology has remained pretty static other than speed and feeds and some tagging protocols. While the server admin kept reinventing himself through open source, virtualization, six nine uptime, the network got split into three distinct category (forgive me Gartner for gross simplification):

  • The Datacenter Networking: The heavy lifting being done by the server ops and running applications and virtual machine the most critical need, the network admin tended to come in the way and exerted control via IP address and VLAN management. The network services which used to be important are also becoming software based and open source and fast becoming the domain of server ops. The server operations is looking for network to provide value, analytics, debuggability, instant scale, threat analysis and virtualized services which the network operations wasn’t trained to provide and hence the relationship between the two organizations has increasingly soured.
  • The Telecommunications Networking: The Network admin had to deal with increased complexity and is becoming very specialized where often Ph.D.s are deployed to ensure the complex wide area network continues to work. The security and service level agreements were paramount. In this scenario, the network operation are doing the heavy lifting.
  • The Campus and Enterprise Network: Used to be a server operations dominated world but as each student is getting 5 IP devices and wants a gig+ B/W for his social and gaming needs, the security, analytics, and managability needs are increasing.

Is the future bleak for Network Operations in Datacenter and Campus?

The network is becoming more challenging is the fast moving world of servers, virtualization, threats, need for instant information, and instant scale. The network operations in Datacenter and Campus networking have not upgraded their skill sets resulting in SDN and keep the network dumb initiatives. Now most of these initiatives lack the deployment scale but Pluribus Netvisor is a full fledged open source Network OS which is designed to make the Top of the Rack another server. Given my past experiences with virtual switching,
the Netvisor is running on the Top of the Rack Server-Switch and gives the ability to seamlessly blend and control the virtual and physical network and orchestrate it as one. Our philosophy is similar to Cisco that the Top of the Rack switch is too powerful to ignore but one needs a full Network OS (aka Netvisor) to unleash the power of the top of the rack switch. With the full Unix programmability and C,Java,Perl,Phython interfaces, the existing server tool chain can now program the network as well. Netvisor running on the Server-Switch and working in conjunction with Openstack and VMware NSX style orchestration can really solve the major pain point.

So one would naturally assume the Netvisor running on F64 and the new whiteboxes will become the domain of Server Operations and the Rack will be fully owned by sysadmin and controlled with the same management paradigm and programmed with the server style tool chain (gcc/gdb)!! And a large segment of our customer base is proving the point. But we are also seeing a smaller segment of savvy network admins at our door steps who want to embrace this new paradigm. Pluribus gives a welcome adjunct to VXLAN style server overlays that case for only low-feature networks that do nothing more than push packets. While talking to these guys, we are providing a management interface that provides the network admins a bridge to the new world where the network became a differentiator and adds huge value to the server and application infrastructure but working as one.

The changes needed in Network Operations to be successful

During our talks with the Network Ops side of the house we see a very distinct patterns. A smaller set of network admins in fast moving companies and cloud providers (not all of them run like Google) very quickly realize that using Pluribus Netvisor and Server-Switches, they can have instant view of their server and application infrastructure, give more control to the application guys (and make their clients happy), help them debug performance and security issues, create virtual network that mirror a physical network because they have control over both. There is a larger set of network admins that is realizing that they need to embrace this change if they want to stay relevant and probably told by their CxO that they need to cut costs and add value. We, as in Pluribus Networks would really like to understand the needs to this set of people so we can tweak the management plane to be more comfortable to this set so they can focus on adding differentiation and value instead of worrying about how they configure VXLAN.

For the infrastructure to grow, we can probably take the easy path (which is already happening) and deliver the Top of the Rack to Server Operations but the reality is that the server admin is already very loaded and would love it if his network counter part can help him. Guys, we would love hear your thoughts on the fast changing world of Top of the Rack Switch. Any concrete examples from both network and server operations would be very useful. You can leave comments on this blog or send me direct emails.

Entry filed under: Netvisor. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Crossbow on Big F#@!ing Webtone Switch Netvisor powers the Rackscale Architecture from Intel/Supermicro

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