Network APIs and their impact on Network Architecture

Network APIs and their impact on Network Architecture

In Network Architecture there are a many small decisions that go along with the one big one, mainly which vendor(s) to use.  Some architects have their favorite, the vendor that has earned the architects trust.  Other architects make a new decision each time, trying to base their vendor decision on both the clients wishes and the architects own knowledge.  In the past, you were locked down to the vendor(s) you chose, but today, with the advent of the Network API, things are changing.

The trend of APIs everywhere started in software.  Many vendor-locked areas that used to exist have been eliminated.  Server virtualization is a good example:

It used to be that you chose one hypervisor vendor like VMWare and were stuck with that choice.  Today you can move virtual machines between hypervisors using tools that were originally built by outside companies but are now offered by vendors including VMWare directly.  You can even migrate virtual machines to and from the cloud.

SDN is driving the Network API

The commonality of the Network API is one of the by-products of SDN.  While vendors were struggling with their SDN story, they did realize something: Programmable Networking Devices were the future.  Juniper, Brocade, Extreme, Pica8 and others have embraced OpenFlow as a mechanism to provide a standardized programming function into their hardware.  Cisco has introduced onePK and promises to support OpenFlow on certain hardware.

One of the most valuable returns on the Network API transition for Network Architects is the ability to design networks that have a higher chance of achieving their three and five year goals.  When you bring a project to a customer it is useful to have an idea of what is driving the 3, 5 and sometimes 10 year plans.  Normally these are partly driven by the equipment provider, now with NFV and SDN  you can have multiple paths to the same goal.

We as architects can build designs where who the vendor is becomes less important, and what the vendor can, will or doesn’t do is more important.  The end of slide-ware is nearing in the networking industry.  Network APIs will push for the end of promised features that are never produced as the power of feature creation is transitioning to the end user.

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