Top 10 Technology Trends of 2015 – #7 Is Your Data Evaporating?

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Continuing our series on 2015 top technology trends, we’ll discuss software-defined applications and infrastructure. Much like all of our personal data, the IT industry also seems to be undergoing a period of evaporation – what we mean to say is, everything is going into the cloud. Your photos, your music, your spreadsheets and documents, and now entire networks are operating virtually with cloud-based abstraction layers separating the physical, infrastructure layer from the application layer.

Why are we seeing this shift? We’re consuming and collecting more data than ever and legacy style networks are getting bogged down in the high-bandwidth traffic. Online commerce is booming and companies are storing ever-growing quantities of data on transactions, preferences and consumer behavior. There’s also the growth of social media – a constant stream of high-resolution images, videos, audio, and live feeds that make it necessary to continually update while you’re online.

In addition to data, the way we’re using technology in the workplace is changing. In almost every industry except for highly regulated ones (finance, defense and health), companies are dealing with a bring-your-own-device or BYOD atmosphere. Workers may have a work desktop or laptop, but bring in their own devices such as smartphones, tablets, a laptop from home – people want to connect their devices to the network and some devices, especially smartphones, are continually attempting to fetch data, a process made necessary by societal pressure to be constantly-connected.

Transparency Market Research reports an estimated $3.52 billion will be spent on developing and implementing software-defined applications and infrastructure by the year 2018.

What are software defined applications and infrastructure?

You may see this topic also defined as software defined networking and that’s because it has to do with network systems – specifically, the virtualization of networks. The premise behind this technology is to create a control layer between the layers of the infrastructure (your physical network servers) and the software application layer (the layer users interface with). This control layer in the middle is sometimes referred to as the cloud layer; its primary function is to separate traffic control from the hardware and simplify the provisioning.

Automation is key to the software-defined network model. Traffic flow can be optimized automatically and the network can be more adaptable for things like mobile support, and also show more flexibility in areas of security, scale, and manageability.

Your physical network is still responsible for the routing and packet forwarding through hubs, switches, and network bridges, but the automation via the cloud is making smarter decisions on your behalf to help your network handle the data you’re processing.

Creating Software-defined Applications and Infrastructure

Increasingly, companies are turning to OpenFlow and OpenStack, two free and open-source options for software defined networks.

OpenFlow, developed by Stanford University in 2011 is managed by the Open Network Foundation, a tech and IT group made up of some of the leaders and tech giants such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft to name a few. In as early as 2012, companies that manufacture network hardware started to jump on board with the OpenFlow protocol by releasing compatible hardware such as virtual Ethernet switches.

Heavy hitters such as IBM, NEC, Cisco, HP, and Brocade are just some of the companies producing OpenFlow compatible hardware; because of this integration, some believe that OpenFlow will become the industry standard.

OpenStack, developed in partnership by NASA and Rackspace, is another protocol that operates in the same capacity as OpenFlow (as protocols for the cloud layer between the application and the infrastructure layers). OpenStack touts a long list of partner companies and garners quite a bit of press with their biannual OpenStack Summit, last held in May 2015 in Vancouver (followed by Tokyo in October 2015). OpenStack is also a viable candidate for becoming the industry standard for the software defined network protocol.

Alternatives to using OpenFlow and OpenStack are available. For example, if you have a highly programmable infrastructure, you could code and build in rules for automation yourself, but seeing as OpenFlow and OpenStack are free and open-source with integration already built in through many hardware providers, this seems like unnecessary labor.

A more viable alternative to the aforementioned protocols is a network overlay; this would utilize VXLAN, STT, or NVGRE protocols and would utilize the existing physical network by creating virtual switches inside hypervisors – VMware is probably the best example of this commercially.

Potential Benefits and Drawbacks

With a software defined network, things like service request response time, security, and reliability all have the potential for positive increases because of the automation potential. With enough rules built in, the system will always be able to define the best solution and can act with more flexibility and scalability.

Some critics are skeptical of the cloud based network solutions because of the man in the middle” and single point of attack and failure potential inherent to the system. Although in theory these are legitimate concerns, the same argument could be made of legacy networks too. No system will ever by 100% safe – as we’ve seen with recent hacking scandals such as Sony, Target, and HomeDepot, but a smarter, automated system has the potential to run analytics and catch threats such as someone attempting to enter the network at multiple entry points with password guessing software.

Check out our previous blog about context rich systems for more information about how computers are getting smarter about processing analytics to detect security threats.

So say goodbye to networks like you used to know them – they’re going to join your music in the cloud.

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