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The Evolution of Networks

beyond IP
Tony Kourlas
Director, Service Provider Strategy
Solace Systems

To understand how networks are evolving beyond Internet protocol (IP), we must begin by
looking at the trends and challenges faced by the primary consumers of network connectivity,
which are the array of enterprise and consumer applications and services that sit just outside the
network edge. The message coming from C-level executives at the enterprises, traditional service
providers, and content providers that manage these applications and services is the same—
networks need to better understand the content and context of the data they carry. Today’s
solution of using content infrastructure software does not deliver the results desired. Enterprises
are facing escalating information technology (IT) costs and unwanted complexity while service
providers remain saddled with a rapidly commoditizing product set at IP Layers 3 and below. As
the focus of network architects shifts from universal IP connectivity to solving distributed
application problems, IP routers will join the list of commoditized network equipment optimized
for Layer 1 through 3 transport, and a new generation of content-aware network equipment will
take center stage at the network edge.

Content-Aware Network Evolution in the Enterprise

In the enterprise, the move from centralized data architectures to more flexible approaches based
on service-oriented architectures (SOAs) is straining application and messaging servers that must
deal with ever-increasing inter-application message rates, volumes, and application integration
complexity. Traditional solutions, including faster software, more servers at the network edge,
and more staff to administer them, do not resolve the scale and performance issues inherent in
these demanding environments. Most of these solutions drive up capital expenses (CAPEX) and
operating expenses (OPEX) and impose substantial complexity and other limitations on the
corporate network. Enterprises need the ability to deploy application infrastructure as a high-
speed, highly available service that can be shared by all applications. Content-aware networks fill
this role.

Today’s middleware/enterprise service bus (ESB) solutions often require racks of servers and
special-purpose software to manage high-volume information flow. A content-aware network
embeds that capability directly in a shared network infrastructure, accomplishing for application
networks what traditional IP routers did for transmission control protocol (TCP)/IP networks.
Whereas IP routers were optimized for IP header lookups and packet forwarding, content-aware
networks are optimized for filtering, forwarding, and transforming inter-application messages on
the basis of their content and context. A content-aware network deployed as an overlay to an
existing IP infrastructure provides the following substantial benefits to the enterprise:

• It allows distributed or SOA applications to share a single infrastructure that is on-


demand in the network to filter, route, and transform information at volumes 10 to 100
times faster than traditional software middleware. Firms can invest in this shared content
network infrastructure rather than create a new network for each major project or
application, which reduces both CAPEX and OPEX.
• It frees application servers to focus on complex business rule execution or event
processing and analysis.
• It provides true loose coupling where applications do not need to know about their
counterparties. Content-aware networks resolve a major problem in messaging networks
today—the requirement to coordinate between sender and receiver with a topic or subject
name. Instead the receiver can simply specify what kind of content they want to receive
using fine-grain content filtering.
• It executes in hardware, which virtually eliminates performance degradation when
significant content filtering or routing occurs, assuring data latency is always low and
predictable.

Content-Aware Network Evolution in Service Providers

Service provider network infrastructure is going through major transformations to address critical
scale and cost issues, a step necessary to cope with global IP proliferation and commoditization.
From a services perspective, however, most of these next-generation networks will be the same as
ever and continue to carry traffic and secure connections on behalf of enterprise and consumer
applications. Companies such as Google, Yahoo, and eBay have become giants as demand shifted
from basic IP connectivity to networked applications and services.

At the same time, enterprise chief information officers are struggling with the custom code
development, expensive middleware, and directories required to manage the flow of information.
They are looking to outsource this complexity. Leading software vendors such as Microsoft and
IBM have responded to the challenge by retooling their entire companies to align with SOA and
Web services—two sweeping global trends aimed at streamlining and interconnecting companies
while simplifying application complexity into smaller, more discrete services.
With a low-cost, highly scalable IP/multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) infrastructure in place,
service providers are well positioned to capitalize from these sweeping changes by reaching up
the value chain toward applications and content and adding value to the real-time flow of
information. The key ingredient missing thus far has been content-aware networking, the
underlying technology required by service providers to understand and forward content based on
predefined rules. Content-aware networks allow service providers to filter, transform, and route
critical business data to enterprise customers and their partners based on their unique interests and
data formats.

For carriers, content-aware networks allow them to bring to market new high-margin value-added
services that tighten bonds with their key enterprise customers and provide differentiation in a
crowded, commoditized bandwidth marketplace. The availability of application layer network
services such as database synchronization, real-time alerting, or an ESB/middleware backbone
service allows enterprises to refocus CAPEX on what is core to their business and outsource IT
complexity as part of their OPEX.

Consumer services present a similar challenge with complex centralized configuration and
tracking systems that do little to leverage the network and thus are as easily provided by third
parties as the service provider. Content-aware networks understand what users are interested in
and can filter, route, transform, and deliver that content directly to them, all from within the
service provider’s network.

Built as an overlay on existing IP/MPLS infrastructure, a content-aware network escalates the


service provider from a commodity provider of bandwidth to a strategic supplier of lifestyle-
relevant services that become the basis of a strong direct relationship with consumers.

Advancing Networking Globally

History tells us that network evolution is about the incorporation of what the enterprise is doing at
the edge of the network, into the network itself. Enterprise Layer 2 deployments led to frame
relay and ATM service offerings, TCP/IP adoption led to the birth of Internet service providers,
and IP virtual private network (VPN) equipment sales spawned MPLS VPN service offerings.
With recent enterprise activity at the edge focused on distributing applications and content,
content-aware networking is set to become the next major frontier in network evolution.