Pioneering Hyperedge network architecture from Brocade

In this podcast we are talking to Marcus Jewell, Head of Western Europe at Brocade who have announced Hyperedge Architecture to enable agile, application-centric campus networks for the mobilized workforce.

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Hyperedge Architecture to enable agile, application-centric campus networks for the mobilized workforce. it’s quite a mouthful so Marcus, tells us all about it!

Let me try and simplify because it is quite a big sentence to describe what is actually a simple view. What we are doing here is just listening to the customer base and listening to what clients need. Infrastructures, particularly network architectures have not really evolved in the last 10 – 15 years. They have got quicker and we have added more features but the way that we go about designing them was really designed for what we call the higher clients server architecture which we have all grown up with and most people with be familiar with. Back then, applications were on a local device, normally a PC and you had your main applications, replication and actual storage back on a server. This was usually somewhere in a server farm, a compute farm, or a computer room etc. Now two things have really changed, the first thing is that cloud technology is changing the way that we access our applications. Virtualisation of the applications is happening so you can no longer really point to a single server farm or single computer room to access your applications. At the same time, there has been an explosion in mobility and also the way that we access data. The architectures that exist are not really suitable for mobility so what we are seeing from the client is that they are reluctant to roll out new applications like video. Highly mobile forces with "bring your own device" have really been held back by the network architectures that people have. So Hyperedge has been designed to address that and allow organizations to run their applications to the ends that they wish to, without having to worry too much about the architecture that they have. In a way, this is the first step to another big topic which is software defined networking.

What is the importance to an organization of their getting their network architecture correct?

We need to remove some of the legacy barriers. People spent far too much money and time in our opinion worrying about their network architectures and those network architectures have a lot of legacy protocol. Let’s take one for example; Spanning Tree protocol, which was designed to stop blocks and loops in networks. What that really means is that you waste a number of ports and you have to think about the flow of traffic that you have. By removing that protocol need and the need to manage it, you can actually free up a number of ports and get more density which has a cost reduction straight away. This allows you to run out your applications without thinking about it. Another point is looking to be able to manage domains as a single logical architecture. That would be very handy because at the moment you have to look at managing switches individually so you have to have some very bright people in your organization to think about how to deploy applications. What we want to do now is to deploy applications very quickly and just know that we have a robust infrastructure that can look after them and adapt to what you are doing.

Is it the case the network architectures still lag behind the demands of the work place especially in terms of mobile working perhaps?

I have heard people say things like "I can do more with my iPad" and "I can do more at home with my corporate infrastructure" and that is the case for nearly every organization and that simply cannot go on. People are demanding that they have the same flexibility for applications in the workplace as they have at home. The reasons why most organizations lag on that are down to three aspects. The first is the cost of replacement of the network. The second is security, with people accessing information and the third one is the sheer complexity of allowing people to work on what we call an open ended architecture. The productivity gains however will outweigh those barriers and so forward thinking organizations are making their changes now. The other big thing is that within most architectures now, the last connectivity point is wireless. People generally do not actually wire their laptop, tablet or whatever they are using to access information the network. There is an access point which then goes back to the network and that has been a huge change to the way that networks are designed.

Obviously mobility has had an impact on security risks but what measures have you taken to ensure the safest possible network architecture?

Brocade itself is not a security organisation so we see ourselves fundamentally as a infrastructure organisation predominantly around the internet protocols and the fibre channel protocols. What we do is adapt to the open standards but with 8021X for authentication. We also partner with organisations such as McAfee, Symantec and Palo Alto with the next generation firewalls to secure these network access points. We believe that security needs to be looked at as an appliance and not an infrastructure layer and therefore we don’t see ourselves entering that market but just want to work with the best of breed in that market.

There are open standards around the IEEE which allow people things such as authentication but security requirements are very personal to the organisation I mean clearly if you are financial institution or healthcare institution you have a very different security requirement than if you are a retail organisation so what we are seeing now is people being able to tier their security requirements and then buy appliances or effectively software which allows the security at the correct level. Security at hardware level is really overkill for a number of organisations. When we talk about the edge of the network its mainly an access control and appliance device so you can see why people like Palo Alto are really growing very quickly with their virtual approach to security as opposed to a physical approach to security.

What are the main points that distinguish your solutions from other service providers?

The differentiation in our approach is sometimes difficult to explain because it gets very technical very quickly. The network standard is open and therefore as you know any networking device connects to any others so really the innovation we try and bring can be described in three areas:

The first is simplification; allowing people to run applications that they cannot currently run and to simplify their management. A number of switches or single hardware devices can be compared and collected together to be managed by a single IP address. You can put in any policies that you wish to, maybe it’s a floor of a building, a whole building or a whole campus. You can apply the same policies as if it was one big single logical switch without having to make complete configuration changes. The cost savings on that are massive in terms of the time spent just keeping the lights on.

The second is with a Hyperstack and Hyperedge area. We actually now have an upgrade path which means you can now buy in at a very minimal cost with lower features and then bring more features together later by simply implementing a more intelligent switch in the stack. You do not have to replace every switch, you can in fact just bring in one intelligent switch and that populates those features down the line. So we are looking at future investment protection.

The third thing really, is making sure that we have a complete management system which allows people to manage all their flows, not only for those in the edge of the network but also in the core of the network, to have a single view of all of their traffic. This applies not only in the application world but clearly we are the market leader in the storage world as well so we have a single view of the three aspects above. They are the three cornerstones of the simplification and the benefits which we are trying to bring.

Do you keep a close eye on trends and patterns within the ways that businesses are working in order to design solutions for your customers?

We don’t declare quite how much money we spend on gathering that information here but I can assure you that it is in the tens of millions that is invested every year. I think the important thing is that you need to form your own opinions as a manufacturer. We take all the information we are seeing and take all the trends and then we form our own opinions for our five year roadmap. I think the one thing that everyone agrees on is that the explosion of mobility is huge. The mobile devices (whether you are a Samsung user, an Apple user or a Blackberry user) are getting smarter and their capacity to generate data is growing. There is no end in sight for that.

We were just about getting used to video to the desktop and now all of a sudden high definition video is being used and then we are looking at ultra high definition video within the next 2 -3 years. Customers often say that they don’t need that, but you can see how this could change your processes. For instance, ultra high definition video would allow a doctor to diagnose potential skin ailments over the phone. That changes everything, you don’t need to travel to see a specialist anymore.

What we are now also seeing, to coin the phrase, is the 'Internet of Things'.It is believed that by 2020 there will be over 30 billion devices connected to the internet. Over 200 billion devices with intermittent internet activity path. So those requirements are just continuing to explode along with the requirement for data storage. On both sides of our product lines we see the addressable market growing significantly and what clients are crying out for is complexity removal.

I guess that means that you need to create a product that is flexible and scalable enough to constantly adapt to changes in demand and usage?

We do and it is a challenge because we are bound by the laws of physics and so it amazes me how our IT departments continue to come up with ways of actually bending those rules slightly and getting the most out of them. But, really we cannot move traffic any faster than a light beam or an electron can move down a wire or a fibre channel so we are really really pushing the boundaries of what can be done in a number of ways. As an organisation Brocade is number 1 in the research network so if you consider 'Internet 2' which is basically the new internet built by the research organisation in the US, that is actually based on our technology.

We are well known for stretching the capacity of what can be done in the networking point and now more and more getting that ethos into the end user community and into the enterprise community where we haven’t been seen as strongly over the last 5 or 6 years