Server Den Asks Infoblox: What's Infrastructure 2.0?

Greg Ness, senior director of the networking automation vendor, talks about managing infrastructure sprawl and offers insight into the standards-oriented Infrastructure 2.0 Working Group, of which Cisco is a member.
InformationWeek: This is going to emerge as a significant issue, because we're at the very beginning of people having to dynamically rearchitect their networks, whether you're talking about enabling hybrid clouds or adding large numbers of mobile users.

Greg Ness: I agree wholeheartedly. Virtualization as a way to achieve capex [capital expenditure] savings has played itself out to a large extent. More and more people are looking to virtualization to address flexibility. But flexibility isn't delivered by greater and greater populations of VLANs, which are increasingly dense. That actually works against flexibility. What has to evolve is more intelligent connectivity between virtual infrastructure and the physical network infrastructure.

InformationWeek: So maybe we can rephrase that old Scott McNealy line. It's no longer that the network is the computer. Now, it's that the intelligent network is the computing resource.

Greg Ness: As you see vendors entering the Infrastructure 2.0 space, they're going to be coming primarily from two directions. First, via a network-centric vision, where the network is more and more intelligent and capable of delivering more and more IT power. The other aspect is the system-centric view, where the network is viewed as dumb plumbing.

I think you're going to see these two ideas competing in the marketplace over the next five years. CIOs are going to be the overall winners. They're going to have a choice in direction. IT will be strategic.

InformationWeek: So let's tackle the term Infrastructure 2.0. Is there a firm definition?

Greg Ness: Infrastructure 2.0 is essentially about the evolution of today's network from the old world of middlemen--an age of business where you had lots of people and paperwork and processes. We're now transferring from that age of IT to an age of automation.

Within that, you have multiple stages. You have the automation of core network services. You have the adoption of tools to build the connectivity mesh between objects connected to the network. The third stage is the evolution of policies in management. [The goal is to] have management and visibility over a unified IT infrastructure and all of the capabilities.

The best example I can think of has been the rise of supply chain, and solutions like Oracle, where the people at the top of the food chain within IT have much more real-time visibility into what's going on.

InformationWeek: What could automated policies enable?

Greg Ness: Think about what's happened within the VLAN and within virtual infrastructures. Think of that now happening within and between cloud environments. For example, you could have policies that say: when a service provider increase their rates by a given amount, or when electricity goes up, move loads around to take advantage of that.

This isn't very practical today, but with the evolution of the intelligent mesh and fabric, and then management of that fabric, it's possible. Plus, lots of people are going to come up with solutions that we haven't even dreamed about yet.

InformationWeek: You're on an Infrastructure 2.0 working group, of which you are a founding member [see more here]. What's its objective?

Greg Ness: We've met a couple of times and the objective is being worked on. Right now, it's a group of people drawn together by both the opportunity and the challenge.

I think the beauty [of Infrastructure 2.0] is that all of us from multiple perspectives are in essence talking about the same thing. Gartner calls it real-time infrastructure. IBM calls it dynamic infrastructure. [Our working group has] talked about it from a Cisco, Infoblox, and F5--and to some extent VMWare--perspective.

InformationWeek: Give us your closing thoughts.

Greg Ness: The network will evolve. The question is, what's the nature of that evolution, and who benefits from it the most. There's a premium for those who solve this issue first. And that's the very reason I'm hesitant to predict the winner or say who's going to be the center of gravity at this point. But I think there's a lot encouraging things going on, both outside the working group, and within it.

For Further Reading

CES Den: Cisco Video Thrust Telegraphs Bandwidth-Bandit Strategy;

Server Den: Architectural Differentiation To Dominate In 2010;

HP Revs Data Center Strategy, Stabbing At Cisco;

AMD, Intel Remake Servers From Processor Up;

Q&A: HP ProCurve Chief Technology Officer Paul Congdon;

Intel CTO Envisions On-Chip Data Centers;

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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of