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Networking vendors are good for free lunches, hopeless for networks

Electronic Arts tech director thinks tech-agnostic developers can build better networks than slave-to-vendor NetAdmins

Fire your network administrators, hire developers instead, and stop expecting networking equipment vendors to provide anything more valuable than free lunches.

That's the advice from games-maker Electronic Arts director of technical engagement Peyton Koran, who delivered a talk titled “The Impacts of Cloud Computing and Open Source on the Networking Industry” at the Future:Net conference that ran alongside last week's VMworld 2017.

Peyton's argument suggests that software development is now many organisations' core competency, but that networking vendors require competency running their proprietary products. That in turn creates a need for procurement competency and licensing competency, even though they're not the things that matter to a business. Buying in to proprietary networks also, he said, means users buy into a vendor's approach to running networks, making the adoption of other technologies harder to contemplate or execute.

What does matter is new features that improve a network, but Koran said vendors only build those when a critical mass of clients request them. Using standards processes can create useful tech, he said, but only if you're willing to wait years. Which nobody can. Rolling your own isn't viable unless you operate at scale to compare with Facebook or Google.

The networking ecosystem is too fragile and slow, too hard for users to participate in

Koran said most organisations are therefore stuck in a cycle whereby network vendors quote scarily high prices for equipment, then wheel in a senior sales person to placate and/or soothe shocked customers. That session ramps up the efforts to sell next-generation equipment but doesn't actually offer an explanation for how an organisation's network will improve, or how users can avoid silos or overlapping functionality across a fleet of network kit.

“Basically this ecosystem is great for steaks,” Koran told the conference to laughter an applause. “Most companies are realising this is not an ecosystem they want to be a part of any more.” They are instead looking for interoperable networks and are willing to pay more to get them as services running in the cloud.

The cloud's a game-changer, he believes, because it doesn't just replace appliances as a source of networking services, it also replaces the supposed secret sauce that networking vendors bake into ASICs and other closed hardware.

Koran believes the way forward is therefore to use a competency many organisations possess – running generic servers – and have software developers run them as part of a development effort that sees organisations build their own networking stacks, perhaps using community-contributed open-source code that shares useful functionality. Developers can do this job because they understand what's required to have applications consume services. Importantly, developers also tend to be solution-agnostic: if something works, they'll use it. Networking vendors, by contrast, have their own way of doing things that users buy into.

That way of selling means “The networking ecosystem is too fragile and slow, too hard for users to participate in,” Koran concluded. “It's too archaic. It's too complex.” And if he's right, it's also sowing the seeds of its own destruction. ®

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