Allison Chen

Author Archives: Allison Chen

No Time Like the Present for Network Automation

The time has come for IT to once again dive into the world of homegrown automation for running their networks.

Network teams have a love/hate relationship with automation, and have had for decades. Time after time, they have tentatively extended the reach of automation, working with everything from PERL scripts, CLIs, and screen scrapes to Python and proper APIs in an effort to reduce the tedium of managing the enterprise campus, WAN, and data center networks. When network teams find ways to waste less time on rote work, they make IT more responsive.

Time after time, though, something goes wrong with the cobbled together systems. Soon, rolling back and correcting mistakes or nursing along the automation as platforms and environments evolve takes more time and effort than is ultimately saved by using it. IT folks pull back and wait for better circumstances, tools, and platforms. Eventually they get some of what they want via new consoles and management tools that hide within them some of the automation IT sought. Then the cycle starts up anew.

Now, the confluence of several trends in IT has made it clear that it is automation time again. First and foremost, the focus on digital Continue reading

Counting Up on the Benefits that Leaf-Spine Architecture Brings to Enterprise Networks

Counting Up the Benefits that Leaf-Spine Architecture Brings to Enterprise Networks

If your network, like most, is growing in size and complexity, perhaps it’s time to consider whether the traditional three-tier network architecture has run its course. It’s becoming apparent that a flatter, two-tier leaf spine network topology can bring dramatic changes in the way we manage networks – with as good or better performance.

Common enterprise network challenges

For decades we’ve been building networks based on the three-tier model: access, aggregation and core. Typical enterprise environments based on this model can easily comprise hundreds or thousands of individual networking devices, creating numerous challenges for implementation and operations teams to overcome in managing and maintaining the networks.

Sure, the teams have lots of software tools to manage and monitor the infrastructure, but they often have little to no integration with each other. Ongoing configuration management along with upgrades, policy and security changes therefore become exceedingly complex and time-consuming, often requiring administrators to log into each device, one at a time, to make changes.

And all the while, the network is often not efficiently utilizing bandwidth due to the use of Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). While the network is likely built Continue reading

8 “Fake News” Items that Tried to Hold Back Open Networking

The parallels between the efforts of the various open networking communities to modernize the networking industry and a Saturday afternoon pee-wee soccer scrum are far too close for comfort.  Both are characterized by loads of noisy, colorful – and mostly circular – movement – eventually followed by exhausted players staring at a ball that seems to be sitting pretty much right where it started.

At least that’s the way it’s been playing out for all the intrepid IT stewards running large enterprise networks — until now.  After years of enduring legacy-vendor-driven “fake news” stories paired with whispered misdirection designed to hold back the disaggregated white box open networking movement as a whole, truth has – finally — won out. 

Multiple Fortune 100 companies are now deploying open white box switches running Pica8’s PICOS® network operating system in their campus and branch office networks, mostly replacing aging Cisco and Juniper architectures.  (A parallel, in a sense, to the on-going white box tsunami in the data center.) Enterprise IT teams now realize that the access edge for campus networks is fully in play for long-overdue upgrades and replacements by more modern, simpler, more flexible, and vastly more Continue reading

White Box Open Networking: A Cure for Your Regulatory Compliance Ills

Just about every major US regulatory requirement says companies must use software that’s fully supported by the vendor that sells it. Simply put, if you’re using software that is beyond its end of life, you’re not only posing a security risk to your company – you’re also out of regulatory compliance.

It’s an issue for any public company, given that they must all comply with the Sarbanes Oxley Act, as well as any company that must meet the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  Those three acts alone cover an awful lot of, if not most, US companies.

All software has a lifecycle, including the network operating system (NOS) software controlling all the network switches and routers in enterprise networks. When that NOS is nearing its end of life, meaning you have no choice but to upgrade in order to stay in compliance, it’s a good time to assess your available options. In fact, given the pace of technology change, it’s a safe bet that you’ve got alternatives that quite literally didn’t exist when you installed your current NOS five, six — or more — years ago.

White Continue reading

50 Shades of Open Source: How to Determine What’s Suitable for Enterprise White Box Networking

To date, the open source community has been quite successful in terms of coming up with scalable and reliable implementations for enterprise servers, databases and more. Yet many enterprises remain skittish about implementing open source software, probably no more so than in the networking space.

Part of the reason is that there are so many different implementations of open source software, many of them backed by different entities with different agendas. Having many minds contribute to an open source project can be a good thing – until it comes time to make a decision about something and stick with it, so you can get a working product out the door. Enterprises need practical implementations that they can count on day in and day out to get a job done.

Defining the shades of open source
Open source essentially comes in different shades that are not all created equal. Understanding them will help you determine whether the open source implementation you have in mind has the kind of reliability and stability you need in any enterprise IT tool or application.

At a base level is the “pure” open source community, where like-minded people contribute their time and knowledge to a project. Continue reading