ARN spoke to Brocade senior director A/NZ, Gary Denman, about the emergence of software-defined networking in the Australian market.
1. How mature is software-defined networking in Australia and what industries and sectors of the market are leading the charge in this arena?
SDN is more than just hype or beta technology right now. It is well established in production environments and is being shipped regularly to Brocade customers around the globe. SDN is redefining the networking landscape and therefore a necessary part of any future business model.
SDN is suitable for all levels of datacentres, making configuration, management and monitoring a much simpler and predictable task, thus requiring less manpower for maintenance and management. This is an even more critical concern in smaller organisations and entrepreneurial start ups without the IT infrastructure of a huge business.
Service providers are leading the charge in this arena and the Australian enterprise, Megaport is the first 100 per cent software-based network and communications services platform. Their services include Internet peering and on-demand, elastic connectivity to hundreds of service providers. All services, features, and lifecycle functions are created, modified, and deleted in real time from a portal, a mobile app, or RESTful API between dozens of data centres worldwide.
Megaport has deployed Brocade’s MLX Series core routers across all of their data centres. The Brocade MLX offers multiple methods for network management that are non-proprietary, open, and intuitive; such as a Linux-based CLI, industry standardised protocol NETCONF, and sFlow.
Megaport is a great example of SDN deployments that are very real: using the API, their user base can quote, build, and change services in real time. Its fast and its scalable directly to the consumer of bandwidth - two concepts that are core to the SDN value proposition.
2. Where is the biggest opportunity for the channel around the shift to software-defined networking?
The channel does understand that the future lies with the provision of software-defined ‘everything’ and you can see the likes of Intel, VMware and Brocade discussing how infrastructure, storage and networking solutions can provide a complimentary solution for enterprise of all size.
Our role at Brocade is to help our partners understand and prioritise whether they want to build a specialist capability or choose to partner with a specialist in these key areas. In the channel today we are seeing a growth in ecosystem partnerships to deliver these end-to-end capabilities for the customer. Our belief is that it is important that partners choose what they are good at and stick to it, and if they need a specialist addition then find those specialists to partner with.
This is for two reasons: the speed and the cost of retaining and broadening skills is difficult. The old saying of ‘get niche or get big’ is becoming even more important. From a commercial perspective it is becoming even more apparent that customers are seeking out a unique depth of skill for those partners that have an aptitude and understanding of applications. It really is all about that at the moment and with unique insights comes the ability to charge more and your rate card will be healthy for some time to come.
To support this specialist partner approach, you will see Brocade to continue to embed its networking capabilities into its OEM Partners offering, as we did recently with EMC. EMC and Brocade have launched the industry’s first IP-based storage networking switch designed to improve the storage experience and help organisations transform their storage infrastructures to support business-critical IP storage workloads.
Additionally we will continue to identify and acquire key IP solutions such as Vyatta for its open controller and more recently, SteelApp from Riverbed Technology and Connectem. The addition of the SteelApp product line strengthens Brocade's software networking portfolio for New IP data centre deployments, whilst the acquisition of Connectem will extend Brocade's experience in software networking and virtualised network functions. It will enable Service Providers and enterprises to offer ubiquitous connectivity between mobile and IoT devices, datacentres, as well as public and private clouds. Connectem's vEPC solutions integrate seamlessly with Brocade's software and physical networking product portfolios to deliver industry-leading New IP data centre infrastructure.
3. How is this shift changing the skills needed for channel partners to succeed in this space?
This changing shift to a world of software-defined everything has introduced the need for a deepening of the skill set partners bring to the table. We are now in a space where we are moving from implementation to architectural design and integration capabilities. The shift is no longer putting an appliance into a rack and plugging in the cables. We need experts to discuss the strategic possibilities of the network – the impacts, rules and managing data. The 3rd platform will introduce agility and greater programmability. The deeper the networking skills our partners can bring to the table will have a direct impact on their value to customers and will lead to differentiation and lead to higher professional services rates.
However we don’t just make these comments without providing the support and education that our existing and new channel partners will require. We have launched two new partner programs, Brocade Cloud Builder and Brocade Cloud Provider which will enable the appropriate accreditation levels and these are actually being designed from Australia for an APAC-specific market requirement. We are excited about being able to input into these initiatives.
We need to deliver all of the networking components of the past with the additional capabilities – you still need hardware but in addition now you will need software too. We have addressed this with the Brocade Network Subscription model. Cloud models are now commonly seen as high value by building capabilities and with a highly cost effective and flexible leasing arrangement they no longer need to make an upfront investment. This arrangement has already proven popular with a handful of innovative enterprises relying on this new ability to balance OpEx and CapEx with fiscal certainty to manage cash flow.
4. What are the biggest challenges in moving to a software defined networking approach?
The biggest challenges we face today is acknowledging the importance of understanding a customer’s intent to adopt these platforms. This is all about qualification. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time in this education phase, as we are in the adoption cycle and we need to work very closely to clarify any misconceptions and unrealistic expectations. We find the biggest thing is setting the right steps of a journey to achieve the end goal. Moving to the SDN approach is not a rip and replace, it is an integration play. Customers will find some of their existing network and equipment will stay and that’s fine. Our goal is to work with partners and vendor suppliers to fine tune this path. We don’t believe that any one has all the answers and at this point it is critical to re-address plans for future network.
5. What is driving the shift to a software-defined approach?
Brocade actually conducted some interesting research last year on this topic. Responses indicated 75 per cent of enterprise had invested in the network over the previous three years, but still a staggering 92 per cent of senior IT decision-makers felt that their infrastructure was not agile enough to deliver robust and scalable services to stakeholders or support next-generation applications.
For many enterprises and IT decision-makers this isn’t news, but the scale of the issue might be. Over the last ten years, the way we interact with data has evolved beyond anyone’s expectation. Billions of connected devices are overloading global networks with requests every second, and users demand always-on, instantaneous access to applications and services. Virtualisation and cloud models are scaling applications at a pace to meet demand but require greater network agility and performance, as well as reduced operational cost and complexity. All of these factors are placing pressure on an infrastructure that, frankly, was never architected for these growing demands. The 3rd platform and how Cloud, mobile and Big Data operates and how the network responds to these demands requires a new way of thinking.
Customers believe that a software-based approach will deliver the automation that they need to fit the new business challenges. For example, service providers love the script and process capabilities of SDN. Once you have defined the requirement and have this correct it automatically replicates every time in a consistent manner. From our research over 65 percent of respondents are actively using (or evaluating) Ethernet fabric architectures in a bid to manage their current cost, complexity and reliability challenges while building the robust physical infrastructure needed for SDN.
Other key findings from the research included:
- 75 per cent of respondents would welcome the use of an “on-demand” datacentre model (a purpose-built network infrastructure for highly virtualised and cloud computing environments).
- Complexity (20 per cent), cost (19 per cent) and performance (14 per cent) are the biggest data centre challenges facing senior IT decision-makers.
- 17 per cent of enterprises have no plans to evaluate SDN, and 16 per cent feel the same towards fabric-based architectures.
- On average, 49 per cent of servers are currently virtualised with this rising to an average of 64 percent in two years.
- It currently takes an average of four days to provision a new device or application, and five days to provision a new service.
- 35 per cent of departments have looked to deploy cloud-based services in order to enhance their IT experience, but have done so without engaging the company’s IT organisation.
6.Any other points, trends and so on?
There are a few main trends which will see us further address that customers are demanding open, standards-driven frameworks which emphasise the open source platform approach; the search for shared-risk commercial models; and the journey to use intelligent software solutions on commodity hardware platforms where appropriate and offload suitable workloads onto these commodity platforms. This outcome reflects customer strategies that are being employed for apps in the utilisation of public and private cloud infrastructures.