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Industry Solutions and Trends
Five challenges of network automation (and how we solve them)
Dec 17, 2014

Software defined networks have to date been used mostly to segment the network. But there’s a bigger prize: we can start to automate large, complex network configurations. If we define private cloud as automating the delivery of services for internal customers, then network automation is an essential component of how we “cloudify” the data centre.

 

Today, although you can launch a virtual machine in 10 minutes, it can take many days to attach it to the underlying network. The configuration challenges of network infrastructure aren’t news to our customers. One admitted to me recently that his team had never managed this task inside two weeks. Even when they did, he said, they very rarely got it right.

 

In the last 12 months, Juniper has made significant progress to help our customers automate network configuration meaning that they can treat the network as a software overlay over a static underlay. But, to truly “cloudify”, there are some challenges that will need to be solved.

 

  1. Are you locked in?

 

Network planning is a long-term commitment, which makes technology evolution a complex decision. Which standards do you commit to? There’s a danger in “I’ll just buy a little more of this”: none of us has a perfect vision of the demands on the network five years from now, and vendors prefer to differentiate: which might lock you into an architecture that will raise your costs or constrain your flexibility. Juniper has invested heavily in open standards because we believe that vendor lock-in is a serious threat to your agility. As part of this, in 2013 we open-sourced the Contrail, network automation and orchestration stack.

 

  1. Can you interface easily with external networks?

 

This may not be a short-term priority, but the interconnection protocols available to you will help to determine the agility of your network. Contrail provides the highly-versatile network layer: if you want to interface into external networks easily, you can do this using MPLS. The Metafabric architecture accelerates the deployment and delivery of apps within and across multiple data centers. It also provides location-independent coordination and management.

 

  1. Can you manage private cloud network performance?

 

Currently many of you tell us that diagnosing intermittent problems, especially in the network subsystem, can become very complex when the network has been virtualised, because the path an application takes to reach the customer varies. Juniper’s Cloud Analytics Engine takes this problem and turns it into a capability that’s better than anything we see in fixed networks, because it instruments both underlay and overlay, and shows the performance in both underlay and overlay. It can isolate problems to the underlay, the overlay, or even the application itself. This capability will be essential to create reliable service delivery in your cloud applications.

 

  1. Can your network scale?

 

Data centres were, in recent history, hierarchical, with multiple tiers of switching, built for north-south traffic. Today there’s a lot more east-west traffic between servers. Cloud services require consistent performance, and predictable low latency, between servers within your data centre. Juniper’s QFabric is a fabric switching architecture that can cope with this type of demand.

 

  1. Do you have the right skills?

 

When we automate the underlying networks, network engineers have to take on many more of the skills of IT engineers, the next generation of engineers will merge those skills. Change creates opportunity to work across the boundaries, but the transition will take time. It’s another reason we embrace open standards, so that you can plug into the widest range of skills, and know that investments in reskilling have long-term value.

 

SDN is a recent technology, but Juniper has been investing in SDN technology for many years. For this reason, we understand the practical challenges that network automation presents, and that has guided the evolution of our products. If you have encountered these problems, our white papers on Contrail in the enterprise and IDC’s report on our SDN architecture can show you how we can help.

 

Please feel to get in touch with me if you want to talk about this in more detail, thanks.

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