The (R)Evolution Of Networking

May 26, 2021

Technology in our professional and personal lives is constantly evolving, and has been since the very first products were introduced. Today, we’re on the cusp of the next big step in the evolution of networking, a leap so large that it could well be considered a revolution.

For perspective, think back on how your parents (or grandparents) prepared for a road trip, such as Disneyland, Disney World or a similar attraction. First, they had to find and buy road maps (remember AAA maps?) and plan out their route. Watching TV or listening to radio for weather reports would be important. Of course they’d need to pack a camera, probably a flashlight in case of emergency, and if kids were involved, games, music and possibly movies to keep them occupied. Credit cards and a watch would be important too, and possibly a journal or diary if they were so inclined.

Now, we just carry a smartphone. It not only has maps, it has GPS –and can even show current traffic conditions and calculate the fastest route. You can get a current weather forecast, right down to the microclimate of the specific location. Games, movies, music, and other apps are either pre-installed or just a download away.

Smartphones have fundamentally enhanced our daily lives. A smartphone is essentially a smart platform that is agile, simple, compact, future-proof, and consolidates many functions. We’ve made the switch to a smart platform in our personal lives, and now we’re beginning to make the exact same switch in networking and security technology.

Like the Disneyland road trip analogy, networking is evolving yet again, and the next big step will bring much the same changes – consolidation, convenience, and workflow enhancement – brought about by smartphones.

Historically, IT staff has had to deal with trade-offs in networking and security gear. Choose a single-function, dedicated (physical) appliance and sacrifice flexibility while paying the price in rack space, power and cooling. Or opt for a virtual appliance and gain flexibility, but lose a great deal of performance. Or, select a ‘combo’ dedicated appliance with multiple functions, with the understanding that the add-on functions are probably not best-of-breed, and will suffer in performance as workloads increase.

Now, the old days of trade-offs are gone and, just as smartphones fundamentally changed the way we live and work, networking is making a very similar change.

The Network Functions Platform consolidates multiple networking and security functions just as a smartphone does. Rather than racks and racks of numerous single-function appliances, now multiple virtual appliances can run on a few network functions platforms, with dedicated resources for guaranteed performance. This significantly consolidates the infrastructure while increasing efficiency and return on investment. Now IT teams can support the diverse needs of multiple departments, partners, customers and other interests with an agile, simple, compact and future-proof platform that consumes far less space and power.

Naturally, Array’s Network Functions Platform supports virtual appliances from Array, including application delivery controllers, SSL VPNs, WAN optimization and web application firewalls. In addition though, the Network Functions Platform can support almost any Virtual Appliance (VA) that runs on KVM – including third-party software from other vendors like Silver Peak, Fortinet and others. If you wish to try open-source software, absolutely it can be run on the platform, so long as the VA runs on KVM.

How does guaranteed performance in a shared environment work? Array’s virtualization technology extends all the way down to its hardware level, and reserves dedicated resources – CPU, memory, I/O and SSL hardware – per instance. Resources are allocated based upon the instance size (entry-level, small, medium or large) to ensure performance levels and support SLAs.

Essentially, you can think of the Network Functions Platform as a hyperconverged infrastructure designed specifically for the needs of networking and security VAs. In a standard virtualized environment (in which resources are shared across multiple, competing functions), the performance of these types of appliances can suffer greatly, rendering these critical functions far less effective. In addition, Array’s solution offers an easy entrée to network functions virtualization (NFV) by abstracting and automating complex operations. Rather than spending weeks or months on an NFV implementation, admins can simply enter a few key parameters similar to the ones they enter on AWS or GCP, and be up and running within an hour.

In addition, a Network Functions Platform supports service chaining, an NFV concept that can maximize the efficacy of security and other functions. For example, inbound traffic can be routed through a load balancer for decryption of SSL traffic, then to a next-gen firewall, followed by antivirus, then IDS/IPS, then DDoS protection, and finally to another load balancer for SSL re-encryption and routing to the final destination server.

Like the revolution in our personal lives brought about by the advent of the smartphone, the Network Functions Platform are revolutionizing networking and security functions, providing the agility, performance, consolidation and ROI enterprises and MSPs need to compete and thrive.

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Milind Kulkarni