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Out with the old, in with the new

Christine Heckart, CMO, Brocade
Christine Heckart, CMO, Brocade

The technology industry operates on micro and mega cycles of innovation. Micro cycles happen every hour, day, week and year. Mega cycles are far more rare, occurring every 20 years or so, like the leap from mainframes to client-server computing.

The classic IP networks that support everything today were simply not designed to meet the needs of the connected world that is emerging.

When our IP networks were engineered 20 years ago, few contemplated today’s IT realities.  Most of us had a mobile phone back then but it only handled voice calls. Old IP infrastructure wasn’t designed for billions of people using their phones to stream music and video, do email, shop online and do banking. It wasn’t designed for connecting billions more sensors and IoT devices that monitor our homes and businesses, or track our luggage and pets. It wasn’t designed for virtualisation, or applications and data sets that live in the cloud.  Old IP networking, now entering its third decade of life, is struggling to keep up, and simply not equipped to deal with the network demands that we’ll quickly face as 25-50 billion devices and sensors come online in the next decade.

Security is perhaps the biggest concern of all. At the dawn of IP networking, nobody really worried about cyber thieves. It was more or less an afterthought in old IP networks. Today, simple firewalls and password-based security protections, in the context of the modern IT world, aren’t just merely outdated – they’re downright dangerous.

The next mega-cycle in networking is the New IP. Like Old IP, this modern version is based on the same basic and enduring IP protocol. Unlike Old IP, which is hardware-based, closed, and labour intensive to manage and maintain, New IP networks are highly virtualised, agile, flexible, and incredibly cost efficient. Even more important, they are designed from the ground up to meet the modern compute environment of cloud, Big Data, social, mobile, IoT, and the need for pervasive, behavioural-based security.

In Old IP, the vendor is at the centre of the ecosystem and in control.  With New IP, the customer is at the centre, and can mix and match hardware and software. A key hallmark of New IP is choice. In a New IP environment, IT organisations can use Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) or workload-specific hardware. Provisioning network resources is automated and can be done in a self-service model, further reducing costs.

In a New IP environment, security is built into the network from the ground up, not just bolted on at the periphery. It is based on behaviour, not just identity. It federates across silos, bringing a broader picture of the behaviour that only a network can provide.  It’s self-learning, not static, so it can keep pace with the hacking economy and the innovators within the dark web.

However, nobody is suggesting that we toss out all the Old IP networks. These legacy infrastructures served us well and are the foundation of most businesses and organisations today.  But they’re limited in how much further they can be stretched to adapt to the increasing demands on today’s IT infrastructure for many organisations. New IP architectures offer massive benefits, and also go a long way to help close the growing relevance gap that most IT and networking professionals currently face.

We have no way to predict how the current mega innovation cycle will end up.  These things have a way of percolating for years, and then coalesce through some magic combination of social shift, economic need, and pure engineering brilliance.  But one thing is certain, networks are the hidden elixir that make everyday life possible. Without a network, the fancy smartphone in your pocket is just a brick and the credit card you swipe to pay for lunch is just a piece of plastic. Without a strong and secure network, the highly anticipated Internet of Things is just a cool term with little purpose or impact, or worse, a security and privacy nightmare in waiting.

Mega-disruptions do tend to roil markets but they also bring with them mega-benefits for businesses.

Companies that make the transition early, or are born from it, tend to win and lead their industries.  On the flip side, those that transition late, or not at all, can miss out completely.  Transitions are also a unique opportunity for those heroes who lead the change in their organisations. Careers will be made by leaders who take networking from the tactical basement, where it’s seen as a cost centre, to the strategic corner office, where it’s a business driver and enabler of new services and growth.

New IP, in this higher sense, isn’t just a useful network architecture – it’s a critical transition tool and platform that will help the modern business world truly move to the next level, and help us all achieve more than we ever thought possible.

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