Four key building blocks for insight-driven network automation

The migration of content, applications and services to the cloud is driving network  behaviors characterized by constantly shifting traffic flows, complex end-to-end paths and unpredictable bandwidth demand. Small, agile DevOps teams are engaged in cloud-native application and service deployments that are highly dynamic, distributed and diverse. These trends are creating serious operational challenges for both cloud-native webscalers and network service providers (NSPs), which are exacerbated by the dramatic expansion of the potential attack surface beyond the traditional security perimeter. In addition, a proliferation of weakly secured IoT devices has created a platform that hackers are exploiting to launch massive scale botnet-based DDoS attacks.

My colleague Tim Doiron and I just published an ACG Research white paper on “Powering Intelligent Network Services With Real-Time Visibility, Analytics and Automation” that describes how NSPs and webscalers can use real-time visibility, analytics and automation to overcome these challenges by taking advantage of the latest advances in network infrastructure hardware and software. The paper examines the four key building blocks that enable operators to realize the benefits of real-time, insight-driven network automation:

The data plane should be fully instrumented in both hardware and software, capable of extracting visibility data used for tracking, identifying and characterizing traffic flows. Data plane fabrics based on custom ASICs will continue to play a vital role by providing embedded support for packet flow classification mechanisms, flexible packet header and payload pattern matching for filtering functions, built-in flow replication and the ability to support millions of granular ACL rules.

The control plane should be fully programmable and evolve to incorporate a sophisticated orchestration layer implementing multiple applications for real-time network automation use cases in response to detected failures, anomalies, performance bottlenecks, sub-optimal utilization and security threats.

Multi-domain, multi-layer visibility is critical for dynamic traffic flows traversing complex end-to-end paths while the underlying network topology shifts in response to changing conditions. Another critical visibility requirement is identifying servers and end points not just by IP address, but by application, service or subscriber, which is a non-trivial problem in today’s vast and complex Internet. NSPs and webscalers also need a map of the “supply chain of the Internet”, which tracks the relationships and dependencies between cloud-native applications and services, CDNs and peering and transit networks.

Big Data analytics plays the critical role of extracting actionable insights in real-time by ingesting petabytes of data, including streaming telemetry for visibility into network paths, traffic flows and performance, but also data collected from a wide array of other sources that provides visibility into the identity of applications, services and subscribers.

In combination, these four key building blocks enable operators to deploy intelligent networks that use visibility and analytics to drive closed-loop feedback for insight-driven network automation:

To learn more, read the white paper and tune into the upcoming Light Reading webinar “Real-Time Visibility & Analytics to Enable Actionable Intelligence & Network Automation“, to be held Thursday, November 9, 2017, 12:00 p.m. New York / 6:00 p.m. London.