Rarely in our careers do we get the opportunity to participate in magic. When I say magic, I’m not referring to mystical unicorns or the vendor-promised pixie dust. I’m talking about those fleeting times when we connect with a group of people with shared interests, keen abilities, and an energy surrounding their craft. When we do, we usually can’t plan, prepare for, or prompt these moments. More than once in my career, these experiences have passed by before I’ve fully appreciated their significance.
Last week, I flew to Silicon Valley along with eleven talented, interesting, and challenging delegates for my second Network Field Day. For three days, we soaked in presentations from networking vendors who shared their vision for the future of networking. We asked questions, compared notes, and challenged the presenters. We ate and laughed and shared battle scars and compared experiences in real time. In short, it was magic.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll share more with you about the specific presentations we saw and what we learned from several vendors. But for now, I want to share some themes I observed and the trends you can expect to see coming to a network near you.
Open Source is a Thing
Before you roll your eyes and tell me I’m twenty years too late in this declaration, hear me out. For years, open source tools and solutions have been invading IT. Open source has fueled the Internet since its inception and we’ve seen the open source marketplace mature for our friends in the server space. However, until very recently, the haughty network engineer has declared his (or her) domain too mission critical for open source software. New offerings, even from incumbents, will no longer allow a network engineer to make such an argument with credibility. Nearly every presentation included a link to a GitHub repository where tools and demos can be downloaded.
Containers and Kubernetes are Coming to a Datacenter Near You
Historically, network engineers have focused their attention from the IP address down the stack. They’ve paid little attention to the platforms which host applications. This trend is changing. Containers and Kubernetes made a significant appearance in several presentations. As networking vendors move toward open source tools and continue to virtualize their solutions, our networking gear will begin to look a lot more like servers. A forward thinking network engineer will not be able to ignore containers, Kubernetes, or Linux and maintain relevance.
The Ball is Rolling
Organizations, and entire industries, have inertia. For decades, the networking industry has grown rapidly while only making small incremental technology changes. The larger the industry has grown, the more slowly it has evolved. The interconnectedness of our networks, the protocols on which our industry standardized, and the foundational nature of networking as it relates to the IT stack have contributed to this slowness. Networking is a large industry with lots of inertia which has been sitting still.
Several factors have converged and are pushing the networking industry with enough force to make it move. The most significant force is the cloud which is proving that infrastructure can be provisioned with the click of a button. Although the cloud brings with it new challenges that we will have to solve, it is forcing all of IT infrastructure, and most notably networking, to change how we operate. Other factors which deserve mention are the countless developers, network engineers, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs who’ve seen a vision for a better network and have been working, in small ways, to bring that vision about.
Although the industry has been slow to move toward this new automated future, the incumbents are beginning to see that we cannot continue on as we have. They are trying to change. I expect we will see a couple more years of reorganization, bumbling, and lots of intent-based marketing spin but in the long run, our networks will be more automated, we will think more about systems than devices, and there will be a lot of cool new tech to learn.