As networks keep getting larger and larger, CIOs need to have a plan

As networks keep getting larger and larger, CIOs need to have a plan
Image Credit: Marc Smith

I’m pretty sure that you would agree with me if I told you that your enterprise network will just be getting bigger and bigger over time. As the person with the CIO job, it’s going to be your job to find ways for the company to keep building out its network without going broke. Got any ideas on how to go about doing this?

How Google Created A Very Large Network

Google has been in the business of creating very large networks for over a decade. It was a decade ago that Google took a look at how they were building their network and decided that this was not going to scale well. They started out like everyone else going to the big hardware vendors and purchasing high-end equipment from them. They quickly learned that they were facing cost, operational complexity, and limited scale issues that were endemic to datacenter networks a decade ago.

The problem that Google was running into was that the networking equipment that was available to them at the time did not exactly meet their needs. Ten years ago, what they found was that the cost and operational complexity associated with traditional datacenter network architectures was prohibitive. Critical issues to Google such as maximum network scale was limited by the cost and capacity of the highest end Cisco and Juniper switches available at any point in time. Network control and management protocols targeted autonomous individual switches rather than preconfigured and largely static datacenter fabrics. Most of these features were not useful for datacenters, increased cost, complexity, delayed time to market, and made network management more difficult.

The choice that Google made then was to go out and build the network hardware that they needed. Now this was not the first time that they had tried this. The effort was inspired by the company’s success in using commodity servers for high-performance computing. One thing that we CIOs need to keep in mind is that the old way of doing things may be coming to close. Some corporations have begun to experiment with commodity hardware and other alternatives to replace conventional switches in their data centers.

Google’s Lessons For CIOs For Creating Large Networks

Let’s face it – Google currently runs some of the largest data centers in the world. With its current network, each version of their network has a different name and current one is called Jupiter, Google has succeeded in operating a network running on off-the-shelf switching components that has scaled to more than 1 petabit per second of total bisection bandwidth. This means that means each of the 100,000 servers in a warehouse-size data center can communicate with each other in an arbitrary pattern at 10 gigabits per second. No, we probably won’t build networks to run this fast, but Google sure looks like they could teach us a thing or two about how to do it.

One of the things that CIOs need to realize is that Google didn’t just create the network that it has today. Rather, over the past decade, Google has created five generations of networks. Some core tenets remained the same, though, in each of the five generations of networking equipment. They’re all characterized by merchant silicon which is off-the-shelf chip components designed for networking hardware which can be bought from other companies. Finally, all use sophisticated centralized control software for managing the complex network.

As CIOs start to explore using off-the-shelf switching components to create their datacenter networks, they are emulating the way other large-scale Web companies such as Facebook Inc. are creating their networks. The way that Google went about building their custom network is different from many companies because they used merchant silicon whereas others have bought so-called white box switches from Asian suppliers which come with the merchant silicon already embedded. The key point is that even Google recognizes that others are starting to encounter the networking challenges faced by large-scale Web companies. As CIOs begin to handle Big Data and analytics in their own data centers, they’re faced with providing a data center network that can scale to handle the traffic. Understanding how Google has tacked these same problems is a great place to start as we create our own datacenter network solutions.

What All Of This Means For You

As the person with the CIO position we understand the importance of information technology and we understand that our enterprise network will just keep growing. What this means for us is that we are going to have to be making some tough decisions about the best way to grow our network. Google has faced the same challenges that we are facing and they can provide us with some guidance.

When Google first started growing their network a decade ago, they did it like everyone else – they bought hardware from the top vendors. However, they quickly learned that the boxes that they were buying contained features that they were not using and could not scale to keep up with the Google network’s growth. Google then started building their own datacenter networking equipment using off the shelf parts. Other firms have followed but what they are doing is buying generic boxes from overseas vendors.

As a CIO you need to take a careful look at what Google is doing. They make a good point that a datacenter environment is a unique place where a lot of the functionality that comes in today’s commercial networking equipment is not needed and in fact makes things more complicated. You may not go all the way and decide to build your own equipment like Google does; however, purchasing simpler gear from overseas vendors might be a great way to save both money and network complexity.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the cost savings makes it worth using off name products in your network?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Wow – that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. sure got really big overnight, didn’t it? One idea that has been running through almost every CEO’s head as of late has been the concept of creating something like Facebook, but restricting it to only exist within the company. The idea that employees could quickly and seamlessly exchange ideas is a great concept, but will it work in real life?

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Netflix now runs everything in the cloud, should you be doing this?

Netflix now runs everything in the cloud, should you be doing this?
Image Credit: Televisione Streaming

The Netflix announcement back in August of 2015 wasn’t a very big deal. In fact it probably went unnoticed by most people. However, from the point of view of those of us with the CIO job, it was sorta like a bomb had gone off. The company sent an email out that announced that in a month they planned on shutting down their very last operational data center. What this means is that they are now running their company entirely in “the cloud”. Should you be doing this?

How Netflix Moved To The Cloud

As important as this move into the cloud is, what we CIOs need to keep in mind is that Netflix understands the importance of information technology and has always had a strong commitment to using the cloud. If you think about their business for just a moment, it’s almost a poster child for a cloud-based firm. Every month Netflix attempts to both sign up additional customers for their DVD delivery and, more recently, their video streaming service. At the same time they try to retain the customers that they already have. The end result of all of this is that their IT needs are growing by leaps and bounds.

In their press release, Netflix was careful to point out that for their video streaming service, they have been 100% cloud based for their customer facing systems for quite some time. Netflix’s decision to move all of its operations into the cloud was not a decision that they reached overnight. Instead, this has been a 7 year project that is only now coming to a close.

Netflix made the decision to move all of their IT operations into the cloud after the company experienced a major hardware failure back in 2008. The next year was when they first got serious about moving their company’s applications into the cloud. The first of these applications to make the transition was the company’s jobs page on its website. After this they moved their video player, their iPhone related technology, discovery / search functionality, and their accounts pages. They moved their Big Data platform into the cloud back in 2013 and their billing and payments processing made the trip in 2014.

What It Means To Be Entirely In The Cloud

Netflix’s plan to shut down their last data center makes them unique. They are going to be one of the first big companies to completely move their IT operations into the cloud. According to a recent survey, about 12% of companies currently run all of their IT operations in the cloud. What’s interesting about this statistic is that most of these companies are small or medium sized businesses – nowhere near the size of Netflix. This is changing. The experts predict that by 2022 they believe that 20% of large enterprise companies will be operating entirely in the cloud.

Moving entirely to the cloud is not something that most big companies can do easily. The reason for this is because of the sensitive business software that many larger companies run either in their own data centers or on dedicated cloud resources provided by another company. Any person in the CIO position knows that it’s the legacy applications that we all have that will always prove to be the hardest to migrate into the cloud.

If you want to move all of your IT operations into the cloud, you are going to have to pick the right cloud partner to team with. In the case of Netflix they have selected Amazon and their Amazon Web Services offering to host all of the Netflix applications. Netflix is willing to admit that they are now “… fully reliant on Amazon Web Services…” The advantage of switching to this architecture is that Netflix no longer has to estimate months in advance how many servers they are going to need in order to serve their growing base of subscribers. When they need additional servers, they can just call Amazon and the servers will be turned up that same day.

What All Of This Means For You

Netflix issued a press release that contained some startling information. They are in the process of closing down their last data center and moving the company’s entire IT operations into the cloud. For a company of the size of Netflix, this is almost unheard of. How did they do it?

What we need to realize is that they have been a big user of cloud services for quite some time. Almost all of their customer facing IT operations have been cloud based for a while. Because of their partnership with Amazon, they have been able to standardize the cloud that they are using. This has allowed them to move more and more of their company IT operations into the cloud over the past 7 years. What other CIOs need to understand is that Netflix has found a way to solve the challenge of either swapping out or moving their legacy applications into the cloud.

It’s pretty clear for the rest of us CIOs: we are all going to be moving all of our IT operations into the cloud over time. No, it might not happen this year or even next year, but it will eventually happen. Netflix is showing us the way. If they can solve all of the same problems that we are facing, then we should be able to eventually make the switch. Looks like it’s time to start thinking about an all cloud based future!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What do you think the very last application that your company would ever move to the cloud would be?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m pretty sure that you would agree with me if I told you that your enterprise network will just be getting bigger and bigger over time. As the person with the CIO job, it’s going to be your job to find ways for the company to keep building out its network without going broke. Got any ideas on how to go about doing this?

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