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What's Hot In Networking: 7 Key Trends

  • In the not-too-distant past, the networking industry focused a lot on hardware speeds and feeds. Networking gear was judged on how many packets it could process per second and how many ports per device. Today, the industry's focus is shifting to software, code, and open systems.

    Software-defined networking, while still far from mainstream, is slowly making inroads into the enterprise. A survey of 153 midsize and large North American enterprises by Infonetics Research, now part of IHS Inc., found that 79% plan to have SDN in live production in their data centers by 2017. Garter predicts that by the end of next year, more than 10,000 enterprises will have deployed SDN in their networks.

    Along with SDN, there's a lot of talk about open standards, open protocols and open systems. One aspect of the open networking movement continues to gain momentum as the number of alternatives to proprietary switches with tightly integrated software and hardware grow.

    The Facebook-led Open Compute Project has helped lead the charge towards disaggregating the network. The social media giant recently proposed a specification for its open Wedge top-of-rack switch to OCP, and Accton Technology's Edge-Core subsidiary is offering a TOR switch based on the Wedge design. Meanwhile, HP is partnering with Accton and Cumulus Networks on its new line of open network switches, which HP says gives customers a choice of hardware and software on branded switches with HP support.

    Infonetics expects the white-box switch trend to make big strides over the next few years as more companies seek the agility and flexibility demonstrated by Internet giants like Facebook and Google. The firm forecasts that bare-metal switches will make up nearly a quarter of all data center ports shipped worldwide in 2019, up from 11% last year.

    While a lot of conversations in networking revolve around open networking, SDN and network automation, networking professionals are delving into many other areas. Enterprises are migrating to the 802.11ac WiFi standard and the transition to IPv6 continues to loom.

    All these networking trends will be featured at Interop Las Vegas April 27 to May 1. Continue on to find out what you can expect to learn at Interop and what networking luminaries will share their views on the technologies poised to radically change the networking landscape.

  • SDN

    In terms of enterprise deployment, software-defined networking is still in early days. Eric Hanselman, chief Analyst at 451 Research and Interop SDN track chair, said the density of infrastructure with SDN capabilities has grown, ranging from Open Flow-based routing and switching to VXLAN termination. But the trick is getting the density of installed equipment beyond greenfield networks, he said. "We're starting to get to that point," he added. Hanselman will team with networking guru Ivan Pepelnjak to lead an all-day Interop workshop, Software-Defined Networking and Network Virtualization. The workshop will cover various SDN implementations, include a live demonstration, and provide a virtual SDN lab.

    SDN sessions at Interop include SDN Building Blocks. Led by Matt Oswalt, who recently joined eBay as a network software engineer, the session will provide a deep technical dive into SDN protocols such as OpenFlow, VXLAN, and OpFlex. Network engineer Tom Hollingsworth will examine SDN use cases for primary and higher education in SDN in Education: Empowering Tomorrow's Leaders.

  • The software-defined WAN

    While a lot of SDN discussion focuses on the data center, the technology can also improve WAN operations. Last year a number of new software-defined WAN products hit the market, promising to make WAN management less complex and more cost-efficient. Greg Ferro, network architect and networking blogger extraordinaire, will examine these technologies in How the Software-Defined WAN Changes Everything For The Better.

    Ferro also will lead an Interop workshop, Faster, Cheaper, More Flexible: The Next-Generation WAN, which will look at next-generation WAN technologies, including SDN-based WANs.

  • Network automation

    For enterprises, SDN requires a pretty big shift in thinking about networking. "Networking hasn't been at the top of the list of where organizations have expected to put automation efforts," Hanselman said, adding that organizations are moving cautiously on the network automation front despite years of experience with virtualizing compute resources.

    At Interop, experts will provide guidance on network automation with sessions designed to demystify the concept. Jason Edelman, principal solutions architect at Presidio, will present A Practical Look at Network Automation, which is designed to help traditional network engineers understand how to use API types and programming languages like Python. Matt Oswalt will lead a workshop that also takes a practical approach to network automation: Network Automation with Ansible and Python will include demonstrations and opportunities for hands-on experience.

  • Open networking

    SDN and the open networking movement have been driven by demand for more flexibility and efficiency. Traditional networking equipment with its proprietary architectures has made networking a bottleneck in the enterprise, many pundits contend. At Interop, Stuart Bailey of the Open Networking Foundation will talk about the need for an open SDN ecosystem in Let's Get Together and End Vendor Lock-in.

    Facebook has been one of the most vocal critics of traditional networking, saying it had to develop its open TOR switch to provide the flexibility and scalability it needs. Some experts say enterprises can follow Facebook's lead, but obviously, not many companies have the resources to build their own networking gear or have networking needs on the same scale. An Interop panel of experts including Ivan Pepelnjak and Stuart Miniman, Wikibon principal research contributor, will debate what enterprises can learn from the web-scale giants in Should Your Infrastructure Look Like Google's?
    Image: Justin Marty

  • NFV

    While SDN has been all the rage, network functions virtualization (NFV) has been gaining traction, mostly in the service provider industry. NFV aims to make networks more agile and efficient by replacing physical network appliances with virtual systems. While ISPs have led the NFV trend, it doesn't mean the technology can't be used in an enterprise. In What NFV Means For the Enterprise, Ivan Pepelnjak will provide NFV case studies and explain the key characteristics of NFV such as service chaining.

  • IPv6

    For years, we've heard about the need to migrate to IPv6, but the requirement became more pressing last April, when publicly available IPv4 addresses were officially exhausted. Network consultant and IPv6 expert Jeff Carrell will provide guidance on how organizations can get starting working with IPv6 in a hands-on session, Build Your Own IPv6 Lab. Another IPv6 expert, Ed Horley, principal solutions architect at Groupware Technology, will discuss how to set up and configure IPv6 in a workshop, How To Get Up and Running With IPv6 - Without Destroying Your IPv4 Network. And Ivan Pepelnjak will examine Layer 2 security issues with IPv6 and how to overcome them in IPv6 Microsegmentation Done Right.
    Image: Thierry Ehrmann

  • 802.11ac

    Adoption of the 802.11ac WiFi standard began picking up steam last year as enterprises looked to leverage the technology to meet skyrocketing demand for wireless access. According to Infonetics, 802.11 ac access points accounted for nearly a quarter of all APs shipped in the third quarter of 2014. Keith Parsons, managing director of Wireless LAN Professionals, will kick off his workshop, The Next-Gen WAN: An Enterprise Roadmap, with a discussion of 802.11ac Wave 1 and Wave 2 along with guidance on updating to the new standard. Matthew Williams, wireless IT manager at Kent State University, will discuss 11ac migration strategies in But my 802.11n is Only Two Years Old and share what he's learned in trying to redesign networks to support an explosion in mobile devices.
    Image: John Taylor