The network is a critical component of any IT environment. When it works, it’s “normal” and few notice it. But the smallest glitch can have devastating business impacts. For over a decade, networking has been adapting to become more programmable, closer to applications, and easier to use. At the same, the number of devices increased drastically while and applications exponentially. More than ever, there is a need to adapt the network to the new paradigm of multi-cloud environments, and to make it on-demand, easy to use, and simple. The network should be transparent to applications and users, yet allow the most complex environments to communicate reliably.
Let’s dig into the three pillars of a Modern Network framework.
Modern App Connectivity Services
User experience is paramount in today’s world. Applications and data are increasingly distributed across multiple on-premises data centers and public, private, and multi-cloud environments. At the same time, users and devices (including IoT) are spreading out from a centralized corporate headquarters to branch offices, remote worksites, and, increasingly, home offices. This new reality means that, more and more, machines are talking to machines and applications are talking to applications, creating network complexity that can only be mitigated by automation driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).
Merely connecting users, applications, and other entities to the tools and information they need is not enough. Users expect the same application experience and performance objectives that they enjoyed from inside headquarters—including speed, reliability, ease of access, and security. Organizations need to focus on providing a consistent application experience regardless of underlying infrastructure or type of connection—whether users are logging in from a branch office, customer site, home, or public network. To do that, IT needs a set of modern capabilities: networking as Code, with full automation; a complete network stack that’s automated and on-demand; as well as consistent policy and cloud management, cloud elasticity, and scale.
Deliver superior user to app experience, anywhere, on any device
Building a modern network starts with a common identity foundation for users and applications that underpins an end-to-end trust model. Organizations need to know exactly which users are on the network, the applications they are accessing, and their behavior when accessing them—all while providing an unmatched user experience. Having this kind of visibility enables seamless user to application, user to user, and application to application experiences without having to backhaul traffic to a central data center—a major source of complexity and degradation of performance. Instead, entities can connect directly with each other via end-to-end encryption and identity verification while keeping policies in place that ensure the fast, reliable, and secure connections that users expect. Providing access to any device for any user, anywhere, is a key objective for this pillar, along with a complete security solution and network connectivity and optimization.
Enforce connectivity and performance objectives
Digital transformation, rising customer expectations, and the future of work are changing the world at a rapid pace. Organizations need a system in place that allows them to iterate and adapt quickly to evolving customer and market needs. This requires the ability to set, measure, and guarantee application connectivity service requirements consistently across the organization. Service Objectives (SOs) cover desired user experience, application availability, performance, and security requirements, and serve as a contract between users and the organization. Infrastructure itself should be responsible for meeting SO requirements—using intelligent self-healing capabilities, automated detection, and application reporting.
Meeting Service Objectives while keeping the organization safe requires two things: the ability to identify different types of application traffic and an understanding of how containers, software as a service (SaaS) platforms, and legacy application platforms interact with each other. Armed with these insights, organizations can apply the appropriate policies and controls to all workloads without having to route traffic to dedicated hardware.
Multi-Cloud Network Virtualization
Modern business requirements—such as velocity and agility—require organizations to build a modern network that can deliver any application to any user, anywhere and at any time, over any infrastructure or connection. Meanwhile, conditions change, and business models need to change with them. Ask any retailer if they had ever thought curbside pickup would be a mission-critical service. The network needs the agility to be on-demand and self-healing in support of massive scale and operational efficiencies across layers 2-7. To achieve this, IT needs policies that can be delivered to any workload across hybrid and multi-cloud environments in a consistent manner so businesses can use, manage, and scale capacity in line with their needs. Most critically, a modern network should replace the complexity of piecemeal legacy infrastructure and solutions with consolidation and a consistent framework to manage heterogeneous infrastructure and cloud environments.
A Self-driven framework for any application, anywhere
Organizations need to deliver any application to any user at any time, wherever they do business. This requires a flexible, software-defined approach to networking—leveraging whatever infrastructure is available between the user and server. There are no homogenous environments in the new normal. Applications and data are delivered across public, private, and public cloud environments, so IT will need the ability to support virtual machines, bare-metal, containers, SaaS, serverless infrastructure—as well as any combination of infrastructure types.
Cloud elasticity at any scale
A modern network architecture must deliver public cloud scalability, simplicity, and price points over private or hybrid cloud environments. Auto-scaling should provide the flexibility to grow and contract as demands dictate—giving users the application experiences they desire while optimizing budget and resources. At the same time, security policies should scale with capacity to ensure that every workload is controlled and managed as if it were inside the data center. And networks should be able to seamlessly port over to other infrastructures for business continuity or network optimization.
Physical Network Infrastructure
Physical network infrastructure in the modern network is generic. It’s a commodity built using general-purpose hardware whose sole objective is to move bits fast and efficiently in support of the user journey and application experience. Physical infrastructure can sit anywhere—in the data center, in the branch, in the cloud, or on the edge in 5G, IoT, and service providers networks. It needs to be empowered by a software-centric policy and network management model. Organizations should be able to add or subtract any hardware from the environment easily and seamlessly and further enhance flexibility, performance, and security with SmartNICs and bare-metal options.
Fast and Simple underlay independent of the heterogenous infrastructure
Physical infrastructure in the modern network serves as a generic, general-purpose platform that can be specialized on demand if necessary and then brought back into the general resource pool. Generally running IP, the network should provide a standardized set of interfaces for operations—whether it’s API, Netconf, Openconfig, Sonic, or others.
The modern network can be made up of hyperconverged infrastructure spanning LTE, 5G, IoT and any service provider. It can be multi-vendor, and must enable connectivity across all heterogeneous infrastructure. Any hardware should be able to be added to or subtracted from the environment easily and seamlessly without impacting security posture. In addition, with Smart NICS the physical layer can also provide higher network performance, another network architecture, and be inclusive of bare metal environments.
Taken together, these three pillars enable IT to modernize enterprise networks with an eye toward seamless user access, consistent application availability, and strong continuity protections for the business. And as always, VMware stands ready to help organizations achieve their network goals.
Take a deeper dive into the Modern Network Framework.