This is part 1 of 5 in a series that will be posted daily this week.
The Future of the Network or “Direct-Connect Switchless Networks”
For the past few months, I have been considering how Networking technology will (and in some cases should) evolve over the next 3–7 years. Networking technology has stagnated from the breakneck pace it once moved. During the 90’s we saw amazing boosts in capabilities, evolving protocols, performance, and overall incredible levels in innovation. Fast forward to 2017 and there has been no real evolution in the network space overall. Sure, there is network virtualization, SD-WAN, and NFV that are useful technologies. These technologies give a lot of flexibility and capability to virtual machines and their hypervisors, along with container technologies such as Docker and Kubernetes. However, the capabilities of the network and its abilities remain largely untapped in my opinion.
My initial thoughts around this began with a conversation I had with @jamesurqhart a few months ago, when he off handedly said that all network switches/routers were really just computers. I never looked at a network switch or router as a computer, I always viewed it as another specialized piece of hardware. The reality is that routers and switches are actually computers and in fact are purpose built computers with a number of ASICs in them. I considered this further and broke things out into modern switching gear becoming more like a commoditized component. This is partially due to large cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google all creating their own switches and in some cases using their own ASICs.
[Above is a diagram of the Packet Flow on a Juniper Networks T Series Core Router] Notice all the ASICs...
Switches have become a commodity today and routers (I mean big routers) are really more like HPC devices. Big iron routers are jammed packed with lots and lots of capabilities and many have large numbers of configurations available depending on the demands of the particular network they are supporting. Much like mainframes with specialized components, these systems are NOT becoming commoditized anytime soon, they are simply too specialized and complex. We have elite cloud companies that do their own ASIC design and can invest in switches in large quantities resulting in large capex savings. These same companies aren’t developing any HPC/core routers as their deployments of those are too few to justify the development expense, at least not currently.
As we move into the future, the trends of networking infrastructure point to continued commoditization. What will and needs to change is the view that switches are purely around to push packets. As you will see in this series of blog posts, there is a huge opportunity for network vendors and others to capitalize on several industry trends to create something beyond a traditional network.
Read part 2 of the series tomorrow to find out the additional trends that are affecting the Future of Networks.