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5 ways enterprise networkers can - and can't - be like webscale stars

Stephen Lawson | Nov. 7, 2016
Agile network technologies are trickling down from companies like Facebook, but not everything translates

Companies like Google keep their maintenance overhead low with a top-down approach to IT, migrating all applications to the same computing and networking platforms. “They standardize ruthlessly ... and then then automate dogmatically,” said Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa. Their vast technical teams, plus that focus on buying young companies, help make this possible. By contrast, some ordinary enterprises have thousands of applications to deal with and require 100 people to sign off on a project before it can happen, Lippis says. It’s much harder to use the same technical approach across the board in such companies, so it could take years to gain the full efficiencies that come from SDN (software-defined networking) and policy-based networking.

5. Base everything on open hardware and software

Efforts like the Open Compute Project’s networking initiative have created a fledgling ecosystem for finished products that are open. But even though you no longer have to design and code everything yourself just to escape the proprietary world, it’s still more than average IT departments can do, some analysts say. “Most enterprises would struggle with this,” IDC’s Casemore said. Though the movement has produced some hardware and software products that are designed for mixing and matching, this is still a work in progress. “I don’t think they’ve put together the right packages, to this point,” Casemore said.

The good news

Though the stars aren’t aligned for network automation in enterprises as much as they are at the webscale giants, it’s not as if average companies are powerless. There are steps they can take to get some of the benefits of the next generation of networking, analysts say.

1. Start small

Implement new technologies on the sidelines, where engineers can learn and the benefits can be proven. “Carve off new projects, and that’s where you introduce the innovation,” Gartner’s Skorupa says. For example, if you set up a new Hadoop cluster, try buying Hewlett Packard Enterprise switches with software from SDN startup Cumulus Networks just for that implementation. If it works in one place, it may later become a candidate for enterprisewide deployment.

2. Broaden your horizons

If you’re dependent on one network vendor, diversify. Big network vendors say they want to partner with their customers, but that attitude actually shortchanges enterprises, Skorupa says. By keeping blinders on, they miss opportunities to save money and buy products that might be better for them. “When they define themselves in terms of their vendor, that’s something a hyperscale guy would never do,” he said. Cloud companies define themselves by the services they deliver and then find the best vendors to support those. Though juggling two vendors is harder in networking than in computing, it’s worth it for the leverage, Skorupa said.


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