IP is running out of gas. It's time for the New IP

The classic IP networks that support everything today were simply not designed to meet the needs of the connected world that is emerging

Although vendor-written, this contributed piece does not promote a product or service and has been edited and approved by Network World editors.

The technology industry operates on micro and mega cycles of innovation. Micro cycles happen every hour, day, week and year. Mega cycles are far more rare, occurring every 20 years or so, like the leap from mainframes to client-server computing.

We are now entering the next mega innovation cycle. As with the previous seismic shifts, the benefits will be massive for those who adapt and potentially catastrophic for those who do not.  We all know the compute layer is moving to the cloud – we’ve been watching this shift for years. Big Data, mobility, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are well on their way. Security, which seems to grab all the headlines lately, is still clearly a work in progress.

Here’s what isn’t talked about enough: the classic IP networks that support everything today were simply not designed to meet the needs of the connected world that is emerging.

And no wonder.  When our IP networks were engineered 20 years ago, few contemplated today’s IT realities.  Most of us had a mobile phone back then but it only handled voice calls. Old IP infrastructure wasn’t designed for billions of people using their phones to stream music and video, do email, shop online and do banking. It wasn’t designed for connecting billions more sensors and IoT devices that monitor our homes and businesses, or track our luggage and pets. It wasn’t designed for virtualization, or applications and data sets that live in the cloud.  Old IP networking, now entering its third decade of life, is struggling to keep up, and simply not equipped to deal with the network demands that we’ll quickly face as 25-50 billion devices and sensors come online in the next decade.

Security is perhaps the biggest concern of all. At the dawn of IP networking, nobody really worried about cyber thieves. Back then, pundits were still debating if commerce on the Internet would ever take off.  Security was more or less an afterthought in old IP networks. It focused on protecting user access at the edge and was never designed to deal with the hard realities of nation-sponsored hacking, malware, ransomeware, attacks from inside the network, and all the rest. Simple firewalls and password-based security protections, in the context of the modern IT world, aren’t just merely outdated – they’re downright dangerous.

We need a new IP architecture.

The next mega-cycle in networking is the New IP. Like Old IP, this modern version is based on the same basic and enduring IP protocol. Unlike Old IP, which is hardware-based, closed, and labor intensive to manage and maintain, New IP networks are highly virtualized, agile, flexible, and incredibly cost efficient. Even more important, they are designed from the ground up to meet the modern compute environment of cloud, Big Data, social, mobile, IoT, and the need for pervasive, behavioral-based security.

In Old IP, the vendor is at the center of the ecosystem and in control.  With New IP, the customer is at the center, and can mix and match hardware and software. A key hallmark of New IP is choice. In a New IP environment, IT organizations can use Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) or workload-specific hardware. Provisioning network resources is automated and can be done in a self-service model, further reducing costs.  

In the area of cyber security, New IP truly shines. In a New IP environment, security is built into the network from the ground up, not just bolted on at the periphery. It is based on behavior, not just identity. It’s like having motion and heat sensors in your home and not just a deadbolt lock on your door. It federates across silos, bringing a broader picture of behavior that only a network can provide.  It’s self-learning, not static, so it can keep pace with the hacking economy and the innovators within the dark web.

Global industry leaders like Amazon, Google and Facebook already operate on the New IP architecture -- that’s a big part of the reason they can innovate so quickly and at such low costs. Google released a whitepaper detailing its infrastructure evolution to a New IP environment. It’s a fascinating and sophisticated read, drafted by one of Google’s leading global network architects. It also offers tremendous insights into the New IP evolution now underway. AT&T also sees the long-term value and has declared that it will move to a New IP environment and virtualize 75% of its network by 2020.

To be sure, nobody is suggesting that we toss out all the Old IP networks. These legacy infrastructures served us well and are the foundation of most businesses and organizations today.  But they’re limited in how much further they can be stretched to adapt to the increasing demands on today’s IT infrastructure for many organizations. New IP architectures offer massive benefits, and also go a long way to help close the growing relevance gap that most IT and networking professionals currently face: between expectations on one axis, and delivery speed and costs on the other.

We have no way to predict how the current mega innovation cycle will end up – it’s anybody’s guess, really.  These things have a way of percolating for years, and then coalesce through some magic combination of social shift, economic need, and pure engineering brilliance.  But one thing is certain: networks are the hidden elixir that make everyday life possible. Without a network, the fancy smart phone in your pocket is just a brick and the credit card you swipe to pay for lunch is just a piece of plastic. Absent a strong and secure network, the highly anticipated Internet of Things is just a cool term with little purpose or impact, or worse, a security and privacy nightmare in waiting.

Mega-disruptions tend to roil markets, yes. But they also bring with them mega-benefits: businesses run more efficiently.  Consumers benefit from better social and professional interactions.  And innovation – a true yardstick for output -- kicks up a few notches or more.

Companies that make the transition early, or are born from it, tend to win and lead their industries.  On the flip side, those that transition late, or not at all, can miss out completely.  We saw impressive, and devastating, examples of both outcomes in the first transition to mainframes and the second to client-server computing.

Transitions are also a unique opportunity for those heroes who lead the change in their organizations. Careers will be made by leaders who take networking from the tactical basement, where it’s seen as a cost center, to the strategic corner office, where it’s a business driver and enabler of new services and growth.

New IP, in this higher sense, isn’t just a useful network architecture -- it’s a critical transition tool and platform that will help the modern business world truly move to the next level, and help us all achieve more than we ever thought possible.

Heckart is Chief Marketing Officer at Brocade Communications, which is betting its future on the New IP.  A 25-year veteran of the technology industry, Christine is also a member of the board of directors at Lam Research, and was recently named as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology by the National Diversity Council. Prior to joining Brocade, Christine served in executive leadership positions at NetApp, Microsoft, Juniper Networks, and TeleChoice, Inc.

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