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Networking's open at last. Now what?

Stephen Lawson | March 17, 2015
Networking hardware and spontaneous applause don't often go together, but Facebook's Omar Baldonado set off a round of cheering this week when he told engineers there's finally an open-source hardware design that they can use to build switches.

The evolution from proprietary to open networking is like the move from Unix to Windows and Linux in servers, except with much higher risk, Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa said.

"If you get things wrong with a network, you don't lose an application, you lose the entire data center," Skorupa said.

What's more, enterprises have a lot invested in traditional gear and bought it to last five to seven years, so they'll wait before ripping it out to save money.

Nevertheless, Skorupa expects a third of all IT shops -- including the Web-scale players -- to adopt open networking. Another third will stick with the tried and true, and the other third may go either way, he said.

The first chance for most enterprises to break the mold will be in discrete projects in the next three to five years like setting up a Hadoop cluster for analytics, he said. But that will also be the testing ground for a dev-ops approach to IT, which can help companies address new demands more quickly.

Where traditional IT leaves networking to command-line interface experts, the new switches and software are designed for programmers from other parts of the company who play bigger roles in dev-ops, Skorupa said. The hands-on method of IT management that comes with dev-ops, plus the fact that open networking often uses fewer lines of code than traditional network software, can lead to fewer bugs and failures, he said.

And once an enterprise starts buying open networking gear for part of its operations, it will start evaluating every purchase with new prices in mind. Open switches may cost one-third as much as traditional products on a per-port basis, Skorupa said.

"You could be having some really, really tough discussions with your current supplier."

 

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