Tom Nolle
Tom Nolle is the president and founder of CIMI Corporation and the principal consultant/analyst. Tom started his career as a...
Read Full Bio >>

Tom Nolle | June 20, 2013 |


The End to Networking as We Know It?

The End to Networking as We Know It? Software routing, combined with software/virtual-function hosting, could transform the whole industry by converging networking and IT in a way most never considered.

Software routing, combined with software/virtual-function hosting, could transform the whole industry by converging networking and IT in a way most never considered.

We've had stories about the death of networking as we know it for ages now, with every new company in the space being touted as a "Cisco-killer". It's like Chicken Little calling out that the sky is falling; if the blue doesn't hit you, then at some point our chicken loses credibility. But we may really be facing a major sea change in networking, one large enough to kill off vendors and change paradigms forever.

Software-defined networking (SDN) was supposed to kill off switches and routers by replacing their adaptive behavior with centrally controlled operations. We've not gotten much further along in that initiative than the OpenFlow control protocol, and Cisco of all people has jumped into providing an OpenFlow controller in open-source form (Open Daylight). Obviously they're not too afraid of SDN, and they shouldn't be--centralized control just doesn't scale and so it's not a major threat.

What is potentially a major threat is a notion of "hosted routing". Quietly, over the last year or so, both chip vendors and software providers have become more interested in making servers better at networking. Initially the thrust was to better support virtualization and cloud computing, but cloud data center applications showed that virtual networking, a form of SDN, could mean virtual switches and routers.

Some vendors, including Vyatta (bought by Brocade) demonstrated that you could combine a powerful server with a virtual router and actually beat out some real routers in performance. Now we have Cumulus, a stealth startup who has opened up with a plan to create software routers that take advantage of open switches designed in part for SDN, or even just plain servers, for use in building cheap networks.

It's easy to scoff at this idea, particularly when giant Cisco has just come out with a big capacity update for its current core router and is said to be preparing an even bigger box. I don't think anyone believes that white-box or server-based routers are going to replace the purpose-built behemoths.

They don't have to, because network operators have made it clear that they want agile optical layers to do more work in the core. It's nearer the edge, where most of the boxes (and money) are deployed that these software-based routers could have an impact...a major one.

Unlike SDN, the Vyatta or Cumulus approach isn't trying to change the architecture of an IP network, just how it's built out. There's no need to wait for standards to evolve or for issues to be addressed because the functionality of these software routers is nearly identical to the "real" devices (there are always some proprietary extensions and interfaces to deal with). My model says that the software-router model could address almost three-quarters of the router market, and at the least it would put more price pressure on the real routers--and their vendors.

The same server/software development that's creating the software router threat is also facilitating network operator plans to migrate higher-layer network features off appliances and onto commodity servers. The Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) initiative is already well along in defining how to do that, and what I think is the first public seminar on NFV was held in late June--by open-source giant Red Hat together with 6WIND, a vendor of server-network-enhancement software. Even before we have firm specs for NFV, it's clear that the key enabler is the network-optimized server and operating system software.

Software routing, combined with software/virtual-function hosting, could transform the whole industry by converging networking and IT in a way most never considered. If servers got fast enough and if the right chips were put into server interfaces, it's possible that networking might become a function of one or more of the virtual machines in each cloud server. It's also possible that things like that centralized SDN control that's been slow in evolving might be sped up if networking were based more on open-source technology, stuff that a community of interested parties would enhance. Even Open Daylight might become a platform for this evolution, which might cause some concern at Cisco, a key sponsor.

There are questions to be addressed in this software-router evolution/revolution, of course. One big one is reliability--the old mean-time-between-failures or MTBF. Purpose-built devices are typically more reliable than servers are. Proponents of software-driven networking models argue that redundancy can address that fundamental difference in device reliability, but failover isn't the same as not failing, particularly when any failure will require reconfiguring routes--"converging," in router terms. It remains to be seen just how a high-availability software-routing model would look or would work.

We have a long way to go before we can say that traditional routers are a dying breed, or that vendors like Cisco are at risk, but we do seem to have reached a point where technical advances in server/software technology will support real competition for routers for the first time. Cisco may have seen that coming, and its remaking of itself into an IT giant may be its way of dealing with the inevitable. So this time, reports of the death of the "old networking" may not be exaggerated.

Follow Tom Nolle on Google+!
Tom Nolle on Google+


September 26, 2018

Join Kevin Kieller, Microsoft UC&C expert, along with Ribbon Communications and Polycom, for an update on Microsoft Ignite, and a focus on critical things you need to know about your voice deployme

August 29, 2018

Moving your voice services to the cloud introduces new challenges for 9-1-1 services. These include the need to serve multiple locations, and the increased mobility that comes with having a phone t

August 8, 2018

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming a reality for your contact center. But to turn the promise of AI into practical reality, there are a couple of prerequisites: Moving to the cloud and integr

March 12, 2018
An effective E-911 implementation doesn't just happen; it takes a solid strategy. Tune in for tips from IT expert Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research.
March 9, 2018
IT consultant Steve Leaden lays out the whys and how-tos of getting the green light for your convergence strategy.
March 7, 2018
In advance of his speech tech tutorial at EC18, communications analyst Jon Arnold explores what voice means in a post-PBX world.
February 28, 2018
Voice engagement isn't about a simple phone call any longer, but rather a conversational experience that crosses from one channel to the next, as Daniel Hong, a VP and research director with Forrester....
February 16, 2018
What trends and technologies should you be up on for your contact center? Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center & Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2018, gives us the lowdown.
February 9, 2018
Melanie Turek, VP of connected work research at Frost & Sullivan, walks us through key components -- and sticking points -- of customer-oriented digital transformation projects.
February 2, 2018
UC consultant Marty Parker has crunched lots of numbers evaluating UC options; tune in for what he's learned and tips for your own analysis.
January 26, 2018
Don't miss out on the fun! Organizer Alan Quayle shares details of his pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon, TADHack-mini '18, showcasing programmable communications.
December 20, 2017
Kevin Kieller, partner with enableUC, provides advice on how to move forward with your Skype for Business and Teams deployments.
December 20, 2017
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, shares his perspective on artificial intelligence and the future of team collaboration.
December 20, 2017
Delanda Coleman, Microsoft senior marketing manager, explains the Teams vision and shares use case examples.
November 30, 2017
With a ruling on the FCC's proposed order to dismantle the Open Internet Order expected this month, communications technology attorney Martha Buyer walks us through what's at stake.
October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.