Discussions about what technologies the New IP encompasses tend to resemble an alphabet soup of references to software solutions. NFV. VNFs. SDN. IoT. FOSS. But what is the place of hardware in the New IP? After all, you can't have software without it.
Hardware often gets the short shrift in visions of the New IP -- but there's more to New IP hardware than commoditized white-boxing.
"While much of the emphasis of the New IP is on the agility, automation and programmability of software, hardware will continue to play an important role in New IP networks," Jason Nolet, senior vice president of Brocade's Data Center and Enterprise Networking Group, told The New IP in an interview, indicating a belief that virtualized white boxes won't go much beyond the server edge in the data center any time soon. "As we move to the spine and core of the data center network, purpose-built switching and routing platforms -- merchant or custom silicon -- will continue to dominate those places in the network for years to come due to the high performance and port density requirements of those places in the network."
Nolet's assertions are not especially novel, nor has the industry changed its perspective over the last few years as SDN and NFV have become reality.
In fact, if we flash back to 2012, Guido Appenzeller, co-founder of Big Switch Networks, wrote in a company blog post: "The overall trend we are seeing is that for your first small pilot, hypervisor-only solutions are a great way of trying out SDN. But as anyone who is deploying SDN at scale will find out, for large deployments SDN support in physical switches creates tremendous additional value and removes many of the roadblocks of scaling networks in private cloud architectures."
Roz Roseboro, an analyst for Heavy Reading, concurs -- arguing that it is far too early in the New IP era for service providers to leave behind the world of proprietary boxes -- because they still offer too many advantages for many service providers to give themselves over to virtualization entirely.
"I can't foresee any scenario when all legacy hardware is replaced by white boxes. Dedicated platforms will almost certainly always have a performance advantage," Roseboro told The New IP in an interview. "Security is another consideration. Proprietary boxes are generally perceived to be more secure."
For Brocade, because of the high demand for the agile future that network virtualization solutions promise, the New IP is relatively pliable -- and there will still be a place for legacy hardware.
"SDN will have a variety of use cases and will ultimately deliver value at many places in the network," maintained Nolet, "whether the switch being programmed is commoditized or not."
Indeed, the New IP -- as focused as it may be on new and highly agile virtualization and automation processes -- does not have to exclude technology that works. To this end, the New IP is not about making legacy hardware obsolete; the New IP is about utilizing hardware components and software components in such a way that they all work together to make each other as efficient as possible.
What's more, for many enterprises, the New IP is still a wading pool. Full NFV and SDN deployments at a grand scale may not yet make sense for some. Therefore, legacy routers and other proprietary hardware still have some place alongside virtualized and automated functions -- so too with new hardware solutions specifically adapted for NFV, SDN and other New IP technologies.
"It comes down to what's fit for purpose," offered Roseboro. "For services where customers are willing to pay a premium, it might make sense to keep using dedicated platforms. For new cloud services where telcos are competing against the web-scale players, the motivation to move to automated virtualized environments will be stronger. I think we'll see legacy and virtualized infrastructure co-exist for a long, long time."
Nolet, however, cautions the enterprise against any unprofitable half-measures. "In general, if a legacy hardware environment cannot deliver the agility required for the customer's business demands, it's time to move to the New IP."
— Joe Stanganelli, Freelance Contributor, special to The New IP