Now it’s Time for Efficiency Gains in the Network.

One of the things that F5 has been trying to do since before I came to the company is reach out to developers. Some of the devices in your network could be effective AppDev tools if utilized to their full extent, and indeed, I’ve helped companies develop tools utilizing iControl that give application managers control over their entire environment – from VMs to ADCs. While it is a struggle for any network device company to communicate with developers, I think it is cool that F5 continues to do so.

But increasingly, the Network is the place you need to go when attempting to address performance issues and facilitate development efforts. Even if you are not pursuing rapid development methodologies, the timeline for delivering applications is still shrinking. Indeed, the joy of virtualization has sped up the provisioning process by a huge amount, and that increases pressure on AppDev even more.

Image courtesy of IBM developerWorks

The thing is, IT’s responsiveness is about a lot more than just Application Development. Since virtualization allows us to stand up new servers in what just a few years ago would be considered an insanely short timeframe, the flexibility of the network is also at issue. It’s great that you can get a new VM running in minutes, but storage allocation, network allocation, load balancing policies, security, and a handful of other less obvious issues are still slowing down the process.

What we need is a solution that allows developers to leave things to the network. Some things – particularly in a load-balanced environment – the network knows far better than the application. The same is true for security. While security has made some inroads into the “this should be done at the network level”, there’s still a ways to go.

The ability to spin up a VM, add it to a load balancing pool, allocate storage, and insure that the correct security policies are applied – be the application internal or external – is the next step in reducing business wait times by improving IT responsiveness.

Just like a super-class has the base attributes a developer needs, and and the subclass implements specific functionality, we need the same capability for security, load balancing, and a host of other network-layer items. F5 implements these items through profiles, templates, and increasingly iApp instances. While I think it’s stellar that we have taken steps to increase the viability of network adaptability, this is something that the industry as a whole needs to take on.

The life of IT staff would be much simpler if you could package an application with information about what network services it needs, and have it automatically add the VM to a pool or create a new pool if the correct one doesn’t exist, storage could be allocated and mount points set in the OS so as to be unique when needed, the correct security policy is applied, all of the services the application requires are just set up. At the direction of the application when it is spun up, not the administrator.

We’re not quite there yet, but we’re headed that way. Automation of network services will be one of the next steps we take to what could accurately be called utility computing, if that term hadn’t already been used and abused.

Which is another – albeit less likely - “wouldn’t it be nice” scenario. Wouldn’t it be nice if the buzzword generation capability was somehow tied to actual functionality? Yeah, I know, I’ll be happy with the very cool IT changes and not worry so much about the market-speak.

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Published Aug 05, 2011
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