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Essential Guide: Application-aware networking

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In software defined networks, applications define the network

As software defined networks evolve, it appears applications will control, even define, the network. Welcome to application defined networking.

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Just as cloud hype led to an explosion of "as a service" terminology -- SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, DRaaS, UCaaS -- software defined networks are contributing their own version of jargon bloat. VMware Inc. is touting software defined data centers. Arista Networks Inc. has started talking about software defined cloud networking.

This week I noticed a blog from software defined networking (SDN) and cloud orchestration startup Lyatiss Inc. that emphasized the term application defined networking. Now don't go rolling your eyes. There might be something to this one.

Lyatiss' CEO Pascale Vicat-Blanc wrote that application defined networking is built on an SDN foundation and involves "applications directly controlling and adapting the networking environment using APIs[application programming interfaces] so that application delivery and performance across public and private cloud networks are optimized without compromising on portability or security."

Network architects have always kept applications in mind while designing networks, but actually putting applications in control of networks is something else. Cisco has been articulating this application responsiveness since it rolled out its SDN strategy, the Cisco Open Network Environment. It promised an emphasis on northbound APIs that can extract intelligence from Cisco's switching and routing [application-specific integrated circuits]ASICs and establish a feedback loop with applications.

A perspective shift: Applications rather than infrastructure

The operative word in the term software defined network isn't software. It's defined, said David Yen, senior vice president and general manager for Cisco's data center group. He said networks need to be defined by the applications that are using them.

"It's a change in perspective," Yen said. 'It's really an evolution of this art of networking intelligence. And furthermore, a lot of the SDN idea is actually blending in some of the functions and features that traditional data center management software is doing."

"People are turning their attention more and more to the application perspective," Yen said. "For the ease of developing applications and for the ease and effectiveness of deploying applications, it's the right time for the underlying infrastructure to serve whatever the application desires."

Cisco and Lyatiss aren't alone in holding this view. The Open Networking Foundation recently expanded its mission to include the exploration of northbound APIs, and open source cloud-orchestration frameworks like OpenStack feature Quantum and other emerging networking projects that ultimately allow applications to request resources from a software-defined network.

IBM also sees an opportunity in networks that are driven by and responsive to applications. While telling me about Distributed Overlay Virtual Ethernet (DOVE), the company's new network overlay technology, IBM product management director Rakesh Saha said the technology will enable networks that are responsive to applications. "The real value [of DOVE] is to enable applications to use the network in a more dynamic way," he said.

So software defined networks and related technologies could change the way companies and service providers deploy applications and services. Rather than tweaking and adjusting infrastructure over and over to get an application or service running properly, an organization can set up a framework that allows the application to demand the infrastructure it needs. Networks have always been too static to do this. Network admins have had fire up command-line-interface consoles to tweak infrastructure for every new service on the wire. With a software defined network, that could end. Applications will tell the network directly what they need and the network will oblige. It's a nice vision for the future. Now we can only hope the massively diverse community of vendors, service providers, enterprises and open source projects can come together and execute on that vision.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Director.

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Essential Guide

Essential Guide: Application-aware networking

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