Mode Cast

Not Your Grandma's WAN —
Where Networking's Headed

"The whole point is to make this friction-free surface that gets you the connectivity you need with the appropriate levels of protections wrapped around it. The challenge is for the vendor community to be able to get there."

— Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst at 451 Research


Eric Hanselman,
Chief Analyst at 451 Research


In this Mode Cast from the Core, Joanne McDougald speaks with Eric Hanselman about how the ONUG and broader IT communities have evolved in recent years, and what the future of network infrastructure will look like. Eric is chief analyst at 451 Research and has extensive experience in a broad range of IT subject areas.

Listen on SoundCloud [Or read the transcript below]


JoAnne McDougald:
"Hello everyone, and welcome to today's podcast. We're coming to you live. You're going to hear a little bit of background noise. We're coming to you live from the ONUG Conference. It's fall 2018. It's October 22nd, and I'm here with 451 analyst and researcher Eric Hanselman, as in Hansel and Gretel but no Gretelman – just Hanselman. And Eric and I are just going to talk – spend a few minutes, and we're going to talk about what's going on at ONUG. Eric, first tell me a little bit about yourself and what brings you to the show."

Eric Hanselman:
"Well, actually I've been part of the ONUG gang for jeez, I don't know how many years now – both East and West Coast. And now actually we're going to be part of the London event, as well. There's all sorts of interesting stuff that's going on. I think one of the things about ONUG is that it brings together a whole set of practitioners, originally around SDN, but now it's really expanded to tackle a whole range of different issues.

If you look at what the working groups are covering, I work with the OSC and [M&A] groups, but there are all sorts of other activities that are taking place within ONUG to really try to bring in user perspective directly to the market. So the thing I think that we find really interesting about ONUG is the fact that this really is where user requirements really take center stage and we get this wonderful assortment of practitioners coming together to really hash out what are the requirements and how do they match up with the technologies and capabilities that exist in the market today."

"Yeah, and what I think is so interesting about the room... I was at this show I think three years ago, and there were not as many vendors here as today. So this vendor community is definitely growing. I think what's happening with SD-WAN, with Cisco buying Viptela, has sort of blown out what that future is for that technology, but also there are other vendors in the room that are really revolutionizing networking. And I think you have a few comments on that."

"Well, there's been a lot that's been going on just in terms of of the transformation. You know, you think about some of the opening talks this morning around security. I think one of the things that Nick Lippis had mentioned at the outset was 'if you're not scared, you must not be very aware.' And I think the second two speakers really sort of pointed that out.

If you think about how that translates into the ONUG audience, who've traditionally been very network-focused, look at the number of vendors that are here that are looking really at, depending upon how you slice it, second and third-generation network protection capabilities, much more sophisticated networks, and networks really being the core both source of truth – you know, what's on the wires, what's really happening – and a control point. You know, here's the place at which you actually can apply some real controls.

Granted, there's more and more virtualized capability that's out there, but yet when you're moving data back and forth, that's one of the most critical places to be able to actually apply controls, to be able to glean context, to be able to really apply security in ways that are much more sophisticated than what we've typically handled."

"Yeah, and so many of these technologies are introducing AI machine learning to really map what those patterns are. And you know... "

"You start talking about machine learning techniques."

"He glosses over." [Laughter]

"Well, no. I wrote a piece last year that was all about the fact that humans just aren't smart enough to keep up with network management. We have to have to have some level of automation to be able to manage what is greater complexity and, more importantly, greater speed. There's got to be a way to be able to manage, whether or not it's ML automation, AI, however you want to brand that. There has to be some level of human machine teaming that's going to allow administrators and operators to be able to provide more sophistication not only with what they're doing with network operations, but more importantly with security."

"Yeah, and something I heard earlier today from one of the vendors I was talking to was that something like 60 percent of companies– not necessarily the ones that are in the room, nor are they ONUG members – but like small mom and pop shops around the world still use a command-line interface to work with their network."

"Config it. Come on. It's where we all live. [Laughter] And the challenge of course is that if you look at not even security events – we just look at operational issues. The vast majority of operational issues are caused by human error, in whatever form. It's not just mistyping. It's out-of-date configs. It's pushing the wrong config to the wrong piece of gear, what have you – things we should've fixed with automation.

Fundamentally the challenge with networks is the inverse of what we've been doing with compute automation for years and years. With compute automation, you have nice, atomic operations, but you have to be able to do them at scale, because you've got lots and lots of them. But the impact of one change... You know, if you blow up one machine, eh, you blew up one machine.

Networking is exactly the inverse. You don't have to do a lot of changes, but they're very high-value changes because the impact is so broad. It was actually Adrian Cockroft, who's here at ONUG, who I think provided that insight that I've been spinning for years. It's meant that people have held off from doing a lot of the smarter things about networking that we've done in compute for a while: automation and a lot of that machine assist that ought to make networks more resilient, more reliable, and less risky when you're changing them. And that's I think one of the biggest challenges."

"Right, and now some of these newer vendors are starting from scratch. Like, they don't have to necessarily deal with legacy hardware or legacy software. They get to start with a clean slate. It does hold a challenge for the incumbents to meet those simplified codebases and an understanding of new networking principles. As we go forward, I wouldn't build the chair today that I would've built." [Laughter]

"Well, the problem though is that you've still got the table and some of the chairs that you bought a while back. So there's all that transitional energy that you've got to manage, but absolutely. If you think about what the opportunities are today, to be able to... If you can go greenfield, life is a very different place. It's those brownfield transitions that are the really interesting places, and there are a bunch of vendors here that have the ability to cover a lot of those transitional issues, as well. It's making that transition that can be the tough part. If you're starting net new today, life is a breezy place."

"Yeah. Last thing just on networking for bringing it down to the common person. So as we interact more and more in the world with AR and VR, and what does this mean for you and me, and the demand that people are placing on the Interwebs in general – that series of tubes. Like, we're really taxing this older technology. And what's the way through? What's the path through?"

"Well, we're hearing towards what we like to refer to as 'invisible infrastructure.' If you look at how people want to consume whatever this capacity is as an infrastructure, it's got to be frictionless. It's got to be simple. End users don't want to have to mess with the particulars and peculiarities of everything that we've been doing. I mean, look at what's happening with SD-WAN. All the next-gen – what was VPN-ish infrastructure for a while.

All these things now – the whole point is to make this friction-free surface that gets you the connectivity you need with the appropriate levels of protections wrapped around it. The challenge is for the vendor community to be able to get there."

"Yeah. Well, I think you've thrown down the challenge. Eric Hanselman, thank you so much for joining us. We've got the takeaway for this – is invisible infrastructure. It's got to be frictionless and secure."

"My pleasure."

"Thank you so much."