How Can CIOs Deal With The Challenge Of Creating Very Large Networks?

I’m pretty sure that you would agree with me if I told you that your enterprise network will just be getting bigger and bigger over time. As the person with the CIO job, it’s going to be your job to find ways for the company to keep building out its network without going broke. Got any ideas on how to go about doing this?

How Google Created A Very Large Network

Google has been in the business of creating very large networks for over a decade. It was a decade ago that Google took a look at how they were building their network and decided that this was not going to scale well. They started out like everyone else going to the big hardware vendors and purchasing high-end equipment from them. They quickly learned that they were facing cost, operational complexity, and limited scale issues that were endemic to datacenter networks a decade ago.

The problem that Google was running into was that the networking equipment that was available to them at the time did not exactly meet their needs. Ten years ago, what they found was that the cost and operational complexity associated with traditional datacenter network architectures was prohibitive. Critical issues to Google such as maximum network scale was limited by the cost and capacity of the highest end Cisco and Juniper switches available at any point in time. Network control and management protocols targeted autonomous individual switches rather than preconfigured and largely static datacenter fabrics. Most of these features were not useful for datacenters, increased cost, complexity, delayed time to market, and made network management more difficult.

The choice that Google made then was to go out and build the network hardware that they needed. Now this was not the first time that they had tried this. The effort was inspired by the company’s success in using commodity servers for high-performance computing. One thing that we CIOs need to keep in mind is that the old way of doing things may be coming to close. Some corporations have begun to experiment with commodity hardware and other alternatives to replace conventional switches in their data centers.

Google’s Lessons For CIOs For Creating Large Networks

Let’s face it – Google currently runs some of the largest data centers in the world. With its current network, each version of their network has a different name and current one is called Jupiter, Google has succeeded in operating a network running on off-the-shelf switching components that has scaled to more than 1 petabit per second of total bisection bandwidth. This means that means each of the 100,000 servers in a warehouse-size data center can communicate with each other in an arbitrary pattern at 10 gigabits per second. No, we probably won’t build networks to run this fast, but Google sure looks like they could teach us a thing or two about how to do it.

One of the things that CIOs need to realize is that Google didn’t just create the network that it has today. Rather, over the past decade, Google has created five generations of networks. Some core tenets remained the same, though, in each of the five generations of networking equipment. They’re all characterized by merchant silicon which is off-the-shelf chip components designed for networking hardware which can be bought from other companies. Finally, all use sophisticated centralized control software for managing the complex network.

As CIOs start to explore using off-the-shelf switching components to create their datacenter networks, they are emulating the way other large-scale Web companies such as Facebook Inc. are creating their networks. The way that Google went about building their custom network is different from many companies because they used merchant silicon whereas others have bought so-called white box switches from Asian suppliers which come with the merchant silicon already embedded. The key point is that even Google recognizes that others are starting to encounter the networking challenges faced by large-scale Web companies. As CIOs begin to handle Big Data and analytics in their own data centers, they’re faced with providing a data center network that can scale to handle the traffic. Understanding how Google has tacked these same problems is a great place to start as we create our own datacenter network solutions.

What All Of This Means For You

As the person with the CIO position we understand the importance of information technology and we understand that our enterprise network will just keep growing. What this means for us is that we are going to have to be making some tough decisions about the best way to grow our network. Google has faced the same challenges that we are facing and they can provide us with some guidance.

When Google first started growing their network a decade ago, they did it like everyone else – they bought hardware from the top vendors. However, they quickly learned that the boxes that they were buying contained features that they were not using and could not scale to keep up with the Google network’s growth. Google then started building their own datacenter networking equipment using off the shelf parts. Other firms have followed but what they are doing is buying generic boxes from overseas vendors.

As a CIO you need to take a careful look at what Google is doing. They make a good point that a datacenter environment is a unique place where a lot of the functionality that comes in today’s commercial networking equipment is not needed and in fact makes things more complicated. You may not go all the way and decide to build your own equipment like Google does; however, purchasing simpler gear from overseas vendors might be a great way to save both money and network complexity.

6.5 Fresh Steps to Build a Value-Adding Network

We all know the importance of having a good social and professional network. Networking is emphasized again and again in any business or career-related book or blog you read. Networking is important, but it has to be the right network. The concept of networking yourself is like driving a car. If you want to reach a place, you simply drive there; but, if you don’t have a destination in mind and start driving in any direction, you are only wasting your time. Networking has to be value-adding for it to be worth your time. Here’s how you can ensure the network you build is adding value:

1 – Identify Key Players

If you want a network that can give you an edge over your competition, you will need to fill your network with key players – people who have the power to influence others and promote you. Often, key players will be obvious. It is easy to see that you need to be in touch with people in upper management as well as people in executive positions. Formal and informal leaders at every level are valuable. Diversifying your network is one of the most valuable techniques you can use.

2 – Network Downward

The biggest mistake people make when networking is that they only attempt to network upward; i.e. with people who have larger responsibilities and designations than them. Exclusive upward networking is the easiest way to have a network that seems golden but is, in truth, ineffective. If you are in a bind or need a favor, are you going to call an executive in another company? Networking upward has great benefits for career growth, while networking downward has great knowledge and insider benefits.

3 – Provide Value

The easiest way to have a network that adds value is to become a person who provides value. You don’t have to go around helping people; if you provide support to your network. The news that you are a useful person will spread throughout your network and others. Being the go-to person is always a valuable asset.

4 – Fun Matters

When you’re networking professionally, you need to keep things fun. You don’t have to be unprofessional, but you can be less formal. Back when smoking was a more popular occurrence, there was always a manager in organizations who had more clout with underlings than any other manager simply because he/she smoked in the smoking room along with the others and had built a good repertoire with others.

5 – Check in with People

A good way to ensure your network is beneficial is to keep communication open with people. If you are young, most of your peers will text more often than one-on-one or phone discussions. If you are older, then you likely call or meet for coffee to enhance your network communication. Often, during these interactions, people will hear about opportunities and will have the chance to recommend someone. If you promote communication, you’ll be on the minds of those in your network.

6 – Never get Involved in Drama

Just because a network consists of professionals, doesn’t mean there won’t be drama within the group. You need to remain neutral and fair. When the dust settles, people are going to remember who took what side. The people who stay neutral will be in the best position because they can continue being friends with everyone. Staying neutral is a good way to ensure your network grows instead of dividing.

6.5 – Be the Addition to the Network you want

Set the precedent in your network by treating others equally fair and acting in the way you feel all members of your network should work.

Are CIOs Ready For The Arrival Of Software Defined Networking (SDN)?

Can we be honest for just a moment? Despite the importance of information technology, the way that all of us are building networks is just a little bit antiquated. We’ve been doing this stuff the same way for a very, very long time. The problem is that we’re still not very good at it. No matter how many CCENT, CCNA, CCNP, CCIE, etc. certified folks you have working on this problem, the networks that we are building have the same problems and limitations that networks have always had. Isn’t there a better way of doing this stuff?

What Google Did

Way back on December 10th, 2012 Google had an outage. This is actually a fairly big deal. Google spends a lot of money and hires a lot of very smart people in order to not have outages. This outage was a bit of a game changer for them: it opened their eyes to the fact that they could have outages that were no fault of their own but which were caused by fault’s in the company’s networks.

It was at around this time that Google and a number of other big name firms in the IT industry got seriously interested in a new way of building networks that is called Software Defined Networking (SDN). The promise of SDN is that it will allow the people with the CIO job to create corporate networks that are both easier to operate and cheaper to build. The arrival of SDN should make the big boys in the field of computer network gear, Cisco, Juniper, HP, IBM, etc. very, very nervous.

We build our corporate networks today using complicated devices purchased from companies like Cisco. Then, over time, we pay for expensive updates to both the hardware and the software that go into these devices. SDN offers us a different approach. SDN uses powerful software to create networks that can be reconfigured quickly via software and which does not require us to make a lot of complicated hardware changes. These networks are built using simple “white box” routers and thereby allow firms to save up to 50% on the cost of building a network.

Why SDN Matters

Technology fads come and go. Why should the people what have the CIO position take the time to learn more about SDN? One of the biggest motivations has to be cost savings. In a network that has been built using SDN technology, firms can expect to get more computing capacity out of their existing servers. Best estimates are saying that firms can expect to save US$500,000 from the cost of setting up and running a single rack of 40 high-end servers. In a single data center, the savings could be very large.

Another reason for firms to consider starting to build their networks using SDN is because SDN makes it easier to reconfigure the network. This means that when it comes time for a firm to launch a new application either for its customers or for its employees, a simple set of software changes that can be quickly and easily performed is all that will be required to configure the network to support the new service.

As evidence of just how important SDN has now become, venture capital firms have started to pour money into startup firms that are operating in this area. Large firms such as Brocade and VM have started to purchase smaller firms that are working on SDN products and Brocade just paid US$1.3B for SDN firm Nicira. Clearly the time for SDN networks has arrived!

What All Of This Means For You

The times they are changing. The way that IT departments have traditionally built networks has resulted in networks that suffer from some serious limitations. Clearly something has to change. The arrival of the Software Defined Networking (SDN) approach to building networks may change everything.

Google is leading the way in building enterprise quality SDN networks. IT departments could potentially save up to 50% on how much they spend on their networks if they build them using SDN. Additionally, companies should be able to get more functionality out of the servers that they have in their network. The ability to reconfigure a network using software will make adapting to changing network conditions much easier for CIOs.

CIOs need to understand that the arrival of Software Defined Networking (SDN) presents the possibility of completely changing how we both build and operate our corporate networks. The ability to reduce costs and increase functionality means that every CIO needs to take a careful look at this new technology and determine if it is right for their corporate network.