The way networks are conceived and managed is no longer about individual components; it's about the whole. Vendors want IT consumers to see their networks as integrated systems providing an end-to-end group of services that work together to deliver an application. For network engineers, this means big changes ahead.
Most network pros are used to point solutions: Firewalls go in certain places; network switches are sized for port density, throughput, and function, and placed accordingly; and WAN routers connect non-Ethernet circuits to enterprises and campuses. For the most part, each of those elements is managed individually.
The implications of this go beyond daily network operations. The greater challenge is executing a network design across a diverse infrastructure. This is a difficult task, requiring that architects intimately understand application requirements and behavior, and that network hardware and software can deliver those requirements. Consequently, network designs often stop at connectivity: As long as the network is delivering IP relatively quickly, that's good enough. This is the plumber's perspective, and it's the wrong one to hold in the context of modern IT.
Unification of IT policy delivery up and down the stack is the wave of the future. Networking can take its cues from the virtualization and automation folks. Those people can create deliver new instances of applications in minutes, automating the installation of an operating system, storage, and virtual network connectivity.
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