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Networking Unplugged

Perspectives on cloud networking and software-defined WANs

Posted June 05, 2013
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The Future of Networking is Looking Up (to the clouds)

The era of modern business networks began over twenty years ago and was marked by the introduction of public packet-mode networks as an alternative to private leased line-based wide-area networks (WANs).

Frame Relay formed the first epoch of this new era. It rose to popularity in the early 1990’s when businesses were saddled with multiple, vendor-specific networks supporting mainframe and client/server environments. Frame Relay was designed to be protocol-transparent and was used replace segregated leased line WANs with a single multi-protocol packet network.

By the end of the 90’s, Microsoft-powered PCs and LANs were pervasive across businesses pushing out other proprietary networks. As the same time, the Internet was flourishing and TCP/IP became the dominant way that to connect branch, campus and datacenter LANs together. The second epoch of modern networking -- LAN internetworking -- was borne.

Today, IP-based devices are rapidly proliferating inside and outside the four walls of businesses making networks increasingly difficult to scale, manage, secure and adapt. Several societal and technological changes are driving networks, and WANs in particular, to the breaking point:

Mobile Workstyles: The installed base of smartphones and tablets surpassed the that of desktop and notebook PCs for the first time in the second quarter of 2013. As people’s lifestyles become increasingly connected, so do their workstyles. By providing the ability to work when, where and on a device of choice, both employees and business win.

Partly Cloudy Forecast: According to a recent Voice of IT report from Spiceworks, over 60% of SMBs are utilizing cloud-based services. However, unless you are a building a new business from the ground up, companies will remain partly cloudy for a long time to come with IT applications, storage, compute workloads and operational systems straddling both on-premise and cloud-based deployments.
Shrinking Planet: Not so long ago only large enterprises had the wherewithal to conduct business on a global scale and to build and support the networks that enabled it. Today, even a small manufacturer in the Midwest can sourcing parts from China and sell product in Europe. As the planet shrinks, the demand for global WAN connectivity  grows for businesses of all sizes.

Shifting Threatscape: Advances in cloud computing and open-source software are not just benefiting the righteous. Nefarious groups and actors are embracing these technologies to radically alter the volume, velocity, and virality of their cyberattacks on business assets. Every day over 70,000 new malware variants that defy traditional signature-based detection are created. With the new-found power and proficiency of the cloud, hackers are shifting their sights towards smaller businesses that lack the staff and sophistication to thwart them.

Crushing Complexity: The the overall construct of IP-networks has changed little over the last decade. However, a conga-line of boxes have emerged at the WAN edge in an attempt to make them more secure, mobile-oriented, application-intelligent, and optimized. These add-on boxes have made WANs more complex, expensive, and unadaptable, and has put enterprise-class networks outside the reach of most SMB organizations.

As evidenced by these technological and societal shifts, a lot has changed over the last decade affecting businesses of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, networking has remained lost in time. One only has to look up to the cloud to see the future of networking is headed.

Pertino is harnessing the power and pervasiveness of cloud computing with network virtualization and social-inspired management to radically alter the ease and economics of business networking. They are among a new breed of software-defined networking (SDN) companies that are promising to change the face and future of networking and, in the process, threatening to reshuffle the vendor deck.

While other newcomers are focusing on the datacenter, Pertino is the first to apply SDN to the WAN and beyond. Their Cloud Network Engine is a Network-as-a-Service that enables any size  businesses to build a secure, cloud-based network that connects people to the IT resources they need from anywhere. No hardware. No upfront investment. No expertise. All that’s needed is an internet connection.

Frame Relay shares some basic concepts with SDN, such as network virtualization (Frame Relay virtualized circuit switching) and segregation of the data forwarding plane (Frame Relay is essentially a transparent, layer 2 data forwarding fabric), but it pales by comparison to the disruptive capabilities of SDN. Some of the concepts that make Pertino’s SDN-powered cloud networking service a revolutionary force for the future of business WANs include:

  • A WAN overlay architecture that provides an end-to-end abstraction of the underlying carrier and premise-based IP infrastructure. This allows it to traverse any type of backbone or access network including the Internet, LAN, MPLS, WiFi, 3G/4G, cable, xDSL, and even satellite links.
  • They have neatly segregated their data forwarding and control plans to create a dynamic, elastic and resilient network topology that rides on standard virtual machines (merchant VMs) within major, geographically dispersed cloud datacenters. This allows Pertino’s overlay network infrastructure to be provisioned and adapted as needed -- and in real-time -- to be close to end users, route around underlying infrastructure failures, and move out of the way of threatening storms.    
  • All of the topological and policy-based configuration complexity of traditional networks -- such as IP addressing, network address assignment and translation, access control, security certificates, authentication, DNS, etc. -- have been sucked-up into the cloud-based control plane. The result is a radically simple WAN building experience. Download the Pertino software, login and invite the people and resources you want to bring together onto a virtual cloud network and you’re done. And, in the future, you will be able to add network services with similar ease.

When you look back at each epoch of modern networking you will notice a changing of the guard at each transition. It will be interesting to see how the vendor deck gets reshuffled by cloud networking and SDN; the third epoch of modern networks has arrived.

Steve Campbell was a co-founder and former CEO of StrataCom; the frame relay pioneer that ushered in the era of modern, packet-mode networks. He is an investor and board director at Pertino, a Silicon Valley cloud networking startup.

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

Investor and Board Director

Co-founder and former CEO of StrataCom, the frame relay pioneer that ushered in the era of modern, packet-mode networks. Also a Pertino investor and board director.

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