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The greatest trick the public cloud ever pulled

by Trusted Contributor ‎05-29-2017 07:40 PM - edited ‎05-29-2017 07:40 PM

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There is a memorable line from the movie The Usual Suspects. Kevin Spacey’s character Verbal Kint says “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” 
 
In IT, there is a near equivalent. As the world accelerates towards cloud everything, it seems a near certainty most enterprise workloads will move to the cloud in some form or another. As they do, we will collectively look back on these formative years with awe and wonder at how the major cloud providers managed to convince the world they are “public”.
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Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are the new orange in networking. The most common storyline is that algorithms will drive behavior. The theory is that they represent another logical opportunity for vendors to move “up stack”.
 

 

shoot-foot.pngAnd while it is true that algorithms will (at least initially) provide a proprietary means of making solutions better, they aren’t the only lucrative aspect of a move towards a more self-driving network.
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There is probably no group of companies in the infrastructure space more envied than the major cloud properties. Senior executives across the globe are actively engaged in discussions with their teams to determine how to evolve their infrastructure operations practices. They throw out words like DevOps, automation, and machine learning, all in a bid to transform their practices to be more agile and scalable. 
 
But some of the most foundational principles that make cloud operations work are too often overlooked.
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Automation is certainly a top theme in networking. Virtually every networking vendor has automation as a key pillar in their stated strategy. Tools companies, typically oriented around server and application side automation, are seeing traction in the network engineering space. And companies who are adopting cloudy operations practices are filling up conference speaking slots globally.
 
But tool adoption is not really an industry-wide phenomenon. It more closely mirrors programming languages. There are different flavors, each relevant for different sets of problems. And that means the automation market will be necessarily fractured. 
 
So how does anyone navigate a fractured market?
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Disaggregation is a common topic in networking. Especially when people discuss cloud economics, the topic of white box comes up. By separating the hardware and software, the general sentiment is that the combined price will drop. 
 
But the principles of disaggregation are not limited to just hardware and software. There are lots of components that make up the technology stack. And understanding the dynamics driving some of those components will allow people to plan for how this will unfold across the networking industry at large.
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I have written before that the key to automation is workflows, and that the vast majority of workflows start and end outside the network. If this is true, then the things that need to be automated are extremely likely to include non-networking things. Those things can be other systems, or, more likely, tools that are used to manage other systems.
 
Important in this discussion, is that the actors in an automated complex of systems and subsystems are not necessarily defined by the bounds of vendor or open source packaging. Indeed, individual components can be important too. 
 
So what’s the right granularity? Anything that generates state is effectively something to be integrated or controlled. And this is because in an automation complex, everything is a sensor.
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In a previous post, I made the potentially controversial comment that SD-WAN will ultimately be a table stakes requirement for all (or at least most) connectivity solutions. And when it becomes an add-on to base connectivity, it will be seen less as a premium service and more as a component of a commodity service. 
 
It is worth pointing out that this doesn’t imply that SD-WAN is not important. To the contrary, it elevates SD-WAN beyond a niche feature to a nearly ubiquitous element of all distributed enterprise connectivity solutions. That said, when SD-WAN becomes a dominant feature in all offerings, it changes the criteria for building out branch connectivity.
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Most IT people are generally aware of disaggregation trends. The industry at large equates the decoupling of components to commoditization. And so the common refrain is that cheaper prices follow the disaggregation of parts of whatever IT stack is being discussed.
 
And while it is true that pricing tends to follow disaggregation, the actual implications of disaggregation are not usually talked about with much precision. 
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Most of the industry dialogue around automation focuses on tools. There are countless examples of people touting this API or that framework. There are templates and recipes and playbooks. We have libraries and GitHub repositories. 
 
But until we talk more directly about the role of integration in making useful automation, we will have unnecessarily limited the potential impacts of automation.
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In 2011, it was SDN. A couple of years later, it was NFV. We saw it with overlays. To some extent, we are seeing it now with DevOps. And for anyone watching the networking space intently, we are now seeing it with SD-WAN.
 
SD-WAN is the next big market maker for networking. Or is it?
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