Users prepare for a software-driven world

ONUG conference finds no army can stop the softening of IT

NEW YORK -- As the winds of change blow through the IT industry, so too do they fill the sails of users looking to navigate the waters of open networking.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the Open Networking User Group (ONUG), which held its fall conference here this week. ONUG began in 2012 as a forum for users to share requirements, experiences, and issues and concerns regarding open networking, particularly around software-defined networking (SDN).

But as SDN became more of a means to an end rather than the end game itself, ONUG’s mission broadened to encompass cloud, compute, storage and the wider IT spectrum.

“SDN is very important, but it’s part of much larger transition in the industry of open IT infrastructure within context of open framework,” says ONUG co-founder and co-chairman Nick Lippis.

+MORE ON NETWORK WORLD: Open user group specs out SDN expectations+

What began as a conference to discuss white box data center switching with OpenFlow has morphed into a colloquium on broader, vendor-neutral IT topics like security, hybrid cloud and intercloud, containers, microservices and new consumption models. The “softwareization” of the industry is ushering in a whole new era of IT, Lippis says.

“Buying patterns and buying cycles are changing,” he says, referring to a more software-centric perpetual or subscription-based licensing arrangement for IT products and services. “Consumption models for IT are changing. Our thinking has changed on how to buy. The market is moving to buyer’s market and not a seller’s market. It’s more dangerous to stay with the status quo than it is to change. Cloud is coming and it is a massive disruptor to everything we’ve been doing.”

The implications of this are huge, Lippis says, as IT and networking skill sets collide. Those with deep knowledge of physical infrastructure must now co-exist with – or become -- practitioners of software-based abstraction and virtualization.

Morgan Stanley is both. The banking giant is becoming more software focused however in an effort to make its infrastructure more agile and dynamic.

“We’re moving from hardware to software so we can change as we go,” says Tsvi Gal, CTO of enterprise infrastructure at Morgan Stanley.

The banking giant deploys over 71,000 physical servers, 20,000 applications and 60,000 databases for more than 70,000 users. Seventeen thousand Morgan Stanley application developers write the bank’s own programming languages, databases, middleware, custom file systems, HPC schedulers, management platforms, application container platforms and hacked kernels, Gal says.

“We are not afraid to build and design things,” he says. “You build when you can differentiate, and buy when you cannot. We are always trying new things, pushing the envelope. We’re really a technology company engaged in banking.”

Still, that internally coded environment must remain malleable and dynamic, ready to embrace change – both technologically and operationally.

“The worse vendor lock-in is when you yourself are the vendor,” Gal says.

But as software becomes the new norm in networking and IT, there are some who view the trend skeptically. It’s hard to beat hardware for performance and reliability, says Doug Comer, distinguished professor of computer science at Purdue University.

“Software is dangerous,” Comer says. “It’s annoying, inconvenient and time consuming. Software always degrades. Put more software in the network and you’ll see the (downtime) headlines. Haven’t you been paying attention? Are we crazy? Software is a drug; just say no. Stick to tried and true design rules.”

Comer may be stuck in the past, according to Brighten Godfrey, associate professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

“Our only hope is a software-defined world,” Godfrey says. “How little hardware can we get away with? We know by example that the future can be brighter. The future of performance is software.”

ONUG co-chair Lippis concurs.

“No army that can stop this,” he says. “Software is where innovation resides.”

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