Opengear CTO on datacentre trends we can expect to see in 2019

Opengear CTO on datacentre trends we can expect to see in 2019

Marcio Saito, CTO of Opengear, provides his 2019 predictions for the datacentre landscape. 

General IT (2019: another step in the move towards the edge)

In general IT, there has been much talk in the past years about the reversal of the pendulum: If in the past decade IT complexity has moved to the core of the network and the cloud, with users interacting through relatively thin clients (web browsers, mobile devices), in the next decade we will see more data being processed at the edge.

Consumers will be interacting with IT using either more sophisticated devices (be it self-driving cars, drones, AR/VR headsets, AI, rich interactive interfaces) or more dispersed and numerous devices (IoT sensors and actuators, smart tags, etc.). In 2019 we will take a step further in the realisation that ‘edge’ is no longer just an analyst vision, but an increasingly concrete reality for most IT managers.

This is a long-term and gradual trend, but a clear shift in awareness is hitting now. The move towards the edge is obviously a positive trend for Opengear’s OOB business.

Network management, infrastructure management, datacentre (2019: the year of virtualisation and automation in enterprise networking management)

In network management, infrastructure management, datadentre the big themes will continue to be virtualisation and automation, with a jump in enterprise awareness in 2019.

In the past decade, most areas in IT went through a major transformation that enabled large service providers to operate at ‘web scale’ and the enterprise to drastically improve their levels of efficiency. The technology involved included virtualisation (which decoupled layers of infrastructure), orchestration (which allowed vendor-neutral approaches to management) and DevOps (a transformation on culture and operational processes).

If in the 2000’s a system administrator could take care of 30 servers, in 2019 that number is larger than 3000, a two order of magnitude jump.

A persistent incongruence has been: if every other field in IT has been transformed by virtualisation, orchestration, DevOps, why is it that networking has remained ‘old school’?

While other IT silos seem to be collapsing into a ‘converged infrastructure’, network remains separate. Is it cultural? Are networking people more conservative? Is it caused by the tight grip on the market by one or two major?

If I am managing an application infrastructure, I can rely on always-on network connectivity, apply automation techniques to reduce the need for human intervention. If I am managing a server or storage infrastructure, I can rely on always-on network infrastructure, apply automation techniques to increase scale and efficiency.

Now, if I am managing the network infrastructure, I cannot rely on always-on networking connectivity. Networking is different in the sense that it manages the infrastructure that supports the automation efforts of all other IT silos. While virtualisation and orchestration technologies are now being applied to networking, it won’t change the fact that, different from other IT silos, monitoring, managing and repairing the physical layer of networking will remain relevant in the long-term.

In IT infrastructure management, if I am managing applications, the network is always there to save me. If I am managing servers or storage, the network is always there to save me. If I am managing databases, the network is always there to save me. If I am managing the network infrastructure, who do I rely on? That’s where Opengear comes in. We are the last-resort infrastructure that supports network infrastructure management.

Software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) (2019: the year of SD-WAN – but everyone knows that)

There is no better demonstration of the intrinsic dependency of the physical layer of networking and geography than wide-area networking (WAN).

In the past couple of years, we have witnessed a remarkable convergence of previously disjointed technologies to address a general problem. Traffic management and quality-of-service, data encryption and compression, VPN end-to-end security, network redundancy and failover, remote provisioning techniques were combined and packaged together with new cloud-based provisioning and configured to take advantage of network-function virtualisation (NFV) to create a very compelling solution for WAN connectivity and management.

It has become moot to predict explosive growth in SD-WAN. 2019 is the year where every single enterprise managing remote branch connectivity will be looking at SD-WAN deployments. The cost and resiliency differences between old-school WAN networking using MPLS circuits and access routers and SD-WAN are clear and compelling.

While cloud-based provisioning has alleviated the cost and pain of deploying a WAN solution, reducing the need to send a team of engineers to each location to setup and configure the router and network uplink, it is important to remember that the laws of physics still apply: any tool or technology that relies on an infrastructure to manage the infrastructure gets into a deadlock when there is a disruption. Provisioning of remote devices relying on existing in-band network connectivity is still subject to deadlock (whether it is done from a NOC or the cloud).

With more sophisticated, fast-evolving, multi-vendor software stacks being deployed at the edge, the opportunities for something to go wrong multiply. While a traditional access router can be deployed and go untouched for months or even years, in SD-WAN, the software components are updated continuously from the cloud. Compared to traditional networking, this is convenient and secure, but is still dependent on the stability of WAN links and remote physical infrastructure.

Opengear is leading the way in extending OOB solutions not only to provide last-resort connectivity to remote sites and minimise the need of truck rolls as it has been doing for traditional WAN deployments, but also to extend the reach of other monitoring and management systems so that they can manage the edge devices even before the WAN connectivity is established or when there is a disruption. We see this as one of the key areas of growth for OOB and Opengear in the next years.

Specific technologies that will be hot in network infrastructure management in 2019

If virtualisation transformed the big blocks of IT in the past decade, containerised applications are transforming networking and networking management in 2019.

Containers allow the flexible deployment of applications anywhere in the infrastructure, while avoiding the weight and complexity of traditional virtualisation.

When most of your nodes or devices are not full-blown datacentre servers, size and simplicity matters. Though there are many challengers, Docker is the most popular container format and is likely to remain so in 2019.

Use of traditional network management protocols (like SNMP, IPMI, NETCONF) for both monitoring and configuration of devices have been the mainstay of network management for as long as we remember. It has been plagued by vendors making sure their implementation of the standards was always ‘unique’, but it was better than nothing.

Large-scale service providers have abandoned that approach in favour of less structured methods that remove the dependency on hardware vendors. Instead of getting structured monitoring data from SNMP gets, apply Big Data and AI techniques to parse less structured log and event information. Instead of using SNMP set to configure a particular parameter in a device, use an orchestration tool like Ansible or Puppet to replace the entire configuration file.

In the enterprise, there are good reasons to apply both methods and the debate will continue. On the more structured side of the market, OpenConfig and streaming telemetry is gaining traction as a user-driven set of standards. At the same time, the attempts to ‘converge’ networking and apply the same techniques used in other IT silos will continue. This debate will be central to both technology providers and IT users in 2019.

As the leading provider of OOB infrastructure to the market, Opengear supports both parts of that debate by offering capabilities in both camps. But in its own NetOps Automation Solutions, Opengear is favouring the vendor-neutral, protocol independent approach by leveraging open technologies such as Git, Docker, Ansible, ZTP to enable enterprises to operate their networks with scalability and efficiency without precedent in network management.

The evolution of OOB

While always-on network connectivity is the saviour of managers of any other IT silo, Out-of-Band (OOB) is the infrastructure of last resort that saves network managers when the production infrastructure is disrupted.

An Out-of-Band management system provides a secure alternate path so that a network engineer can reach the console port of any network element in the infrastructure even if the production network is disrupted. This has been the established definition of OOB for the past two decades.

As Network Management automates, virtualises and goes ‘NetOps’, OOB has also to evolve and be less about connecting people to ports.