The days of the fat, dumb pipe, are over. Servers applications, and storage have been shouldering the intelligence and security burden for too long. It’s time for the network infrastructure itself to add some smarts. After all, when it comes to intelligence, the real beauty of the network is that it touches everything.
“The network is the one common element across the infrastructure,” says Rob Redford, vice president of marketing for Cisco Systems. “If it had more capability to look more deeply inside application traffic, it would give us a better idea of what is being transacted and what information is flowing where, and it could play a more active role in helping organizations meet their business objectives.”
But what does network intelligence mean? According to Gartner research vice president Mark Fabbi , it’s mostly about application awareness or what he calls “application fluency.”
“An application-fluent network knows not only what application is running; it also has knowledge of the syntax and semantics of the application and the elements of the transaction,” Fabbi says. “And it knows who is connecting, how they’re connecting, and with what device.”
The network already provides some intelligence today, say the infrastructure vendors, but mostly it’s on a piecemeal basis, with scores of specialized devices targeting local security, performance, and application issues. In the next five years, however, we may see a lot of these pieces come together, producing managed networks that are more intelligent from end to end.
“If you’re consolidating lots of servers and applications, you really have to start optimizing the delivery of traffic back out,” Fabbi says, adding that this is particularly true in an environment that favors browser-based applications. “These applications put a tremendous burden on the underlying network protocols and servers. Generic network design simply doesn’t work.”
It Pays to Think Smart
“Throwing bandwidth at the problem doesn’t solve the fundamental global network performance issue today, which is latency,” says David Willis, a Gartner senior analyst. “In cross-continental WANs, round-trip time can be as high as 50ms to 75ms, compared to 10ms on a LAN, while in a global network it could reach more than 250ms. When you consider that a single Web page can require as many as 10 or 20 different requests and responses, and then multiply that by thousands of Web pages and users with different connections and devices, you get the picture.”
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“On day zero of a new worm, software and IPSs that rely on signatures don’t know anything about it,” says Brice Clark, worldwide director of strategic planning for HP’s ProCurve networking line. The network infrastructure can be a complementary layer of defense that detects traffic anomalies and halts malware propagation using rate limiting and connection delay.