Networking Primer – Part 1: Introduction

The world of networking has been fairly static for many years now. It’s been historically characterised by static infrastructures that require infrequent changes.  These configuration changes were performed via command line interfaces by network engineers, usually sitting with a laptop and a cable plugged directly into a piece of networking hardware. Activities were manual, repeated for every individual device and extremely error prone due to the non-human readable nature of network configuration information.

The workloads running in the modern datacenter have most definitely changed in recent years. It has become apparent that the capabilities of current networking devices and operational approaches simply cannot keep up with the pace of change.  In the modern datacenter, the rapid and overwhelming success of server virtualisation has fundamentally changed the way applications consume resources and the network has become somewhat of a bottleneck in providing agile, reliable and cost effective means of delivering new applications.   In addition to the shortcomings of existing technology, operational processes and a tendency to silo server, storage and networking departments has also become a major blocker for any significant progress in dealing with these challenges.

In the last 2-3 years, there has been industry recognition that these challenges need to be addressed and there has been a marked shift in strategy.  There has been a wide realisation that the boundaries need to break down and the silo’d teams need to converge into singular, collaborative and multi-skilled teams, delivering IT in a more integrated manner.  The technology also needed to change and the Software Defined Networking (SDN) movement is one that has been central to this shift.

Some time ago I worked in the military messaging field and have had wide exposure to networking, as it relates to battlefield communications protocols. The concepts and NATO protocols that underpin military messaging and not so different to those used in our datacenters and I have been working on understanding the datacenter networking space in the last 6 months or so. I’d like to share what I’ve learned and hopefully provide a reasonable learning resource for those administrators who are preparing themselves for the new converged infrastructure world.  I’ll be taking things right back to basics. Explaining at a beginner level what networking fundamentally is and working through to how we are addressing the key challenges that are being faced by organisations today.

Next: Networking Primer – Part 2: Defining Networking with OSI and TCP/IP Suite

 

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