Wednesday, September 12, 2012
With buzzwords like cloud, mobility and Big Data dominating IT discussions, it might seem that a topic like networking doesn’t have much to offer. Yet time and time again, CompTIA research highlights the importance of networking to success in other initiatives:
Clearly, networking is a topic on IT professionals’ minds as they seek to incorporate other technology into their business. In many cases, standard network components such as switches, routers and Wi-Fi access points need to be upgraded to provide greater bandwidth or lower latency. However, there are new fields within networking that seek to address issues created by new technology models.
Inside the data center, networking needs are changing due to high levels of virtualization. As the amount of virtualized workloads approaches 50 percent, a new architecture for server-to-server communications is needed since bottlenecks can occur at physical network interfaces. In addition, virtualization creates a dynamic environment, so it is difficult to plan a single physical structure that is optimal at all times. Data center fabric networks are being touted by firms such as Cisco, Juniper and Brocade as the solution for the future. Fabric networks are flatter and simpler than current networks designed for client/server communications. They borrow heavily from storage networks but rely on techniques such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) or the Internet Engineering Task Force (IEFT)’s TRILL standard rather than the Fibre Channel connections used by storage networks, which are costly and require specialized knowledge.
A second field that has momentum and is likely more pertinent for most IT workers is software-defined networking (SDN). Most network routing today happens on proprietary hardware, where the pieces that handle the actual packets (the data plane) are tightly coupled to the pieces that define where packets will be sent (the control plane). The control plane typically maps out the network and builds a decision table for packet forwarding; equipment can be costly due to the proprietary algorithms used for this activity. In addition, this approach is not flexible enough for virtual/cloud-based architectures. Within an SDN paradigm, networks can be virtualized to get maximum use out of the physical infrastructure, and the control plane is decoupled from the data plane, allowing network administrators to build their own controls in software and communicate those plans to commodity switches and routers. The most common communication method is the OpenFlow standard. SDN has picked up steam recently with VMWare’s acquisition of Nicira and it will certainly be a field for network administrators to keep an eye on.
As technology shifts, the pinch points for speed and functionality shift as well. Whether it is clock speed, storage or network bandwidth, some aspect that was previously viewed as sufficient suddenly becomes the limiting factor. As companies focus on their networking efforts and explore new fields, CompTIA will keep an eye on the trends and help provide insight and education.