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Summary:

People in a data center add costs, but before we can let the machines take over, applications need ways to communicate with the underlying gear. Plexxi and Boundary have teamed up to make this possible.

When it comes to software defined networking, or any other panacea for the challenges posed by scaling our networks of computers, the end goal is pretty simple. How can as few people as possible oversee as many computers as possible while ensuring everything runs efficiently? But when the ideal ratio is  probably closer to one person running 100,000 machines it’s also a tall order.

Yet, that’s inevitable for companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo, Facebook and others. Even as Netflix outsources most of its IT operations to Amazon, Amazon must figure out how to economically scale its business — and having the old industry standard of one systems administrator managing 500 or maybe 1,000 servers isn’t going to let AWS keep dropping prices. This is why a partnership between data center networking hardware company Plexxi and network monitoring company Boundary intrigues me.

The two companies have created a means for customers who have Plexxi gear installed in their networks to use data provided by Boundary’s monitoring service to automatically adapt the network in real time to the demands of an application. So if Boundary determines that the network flows it’s monitoring are slowing down because the database isn’t feeding information fast enough to the CPU, Plexxi can widen the available bandwidth between those two units until the bottleneck is resolved.

Having covered IT for over a decade, I can tell you that I’ve seen a lot of marketing around this stuff, but once you dug deeper, the caveats and clunky integrations stole a lot of the possible benefits. But the ability to share information using APIs, plus both companies hewing to the idea that they are creating open platforms has made integration relatively simple.

Boundary's service discovers a latency problem.

Boundary’s service discovers a latency problem.

Plexxi begins to address the problem by changing the physical network.

Plexxi begins to address the problem by changing the physical network.

“We’re two companies that share a vision around the abstraction of what we call affinities — stuff that wants to be grouped together,” said David Husak, Plexxi’s CEO. “Boundary can look at the activites of those services and derive affinities, and then Plexxi can do something with it. This is not exclusive between Boundary and Plexxi, but we’re both performing and rallying around this idea of affinity abstraction and that’s what makes it powerful.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t caveats. This only works for those using Plexxi gear, so people running in cloud environments such as Amazon’s EC2 can’t do this yet. And Plexxi’s gear is pretty new on the ground, so it’s unclear how big the customer base it. One also has to subscribe to Boundary’s service, but there are hundreds who use the free version and 80-something customers on the paid version today.

And if this doesn’t work for most people, that might be alright because startup Lyatiss, a company I covered last month is trying to do something similar with its software. It’s stuff will work in Amazon’s EC2, although so far it only has the monitoring component as opposed to the automatic scaling element. However, thanks to APIs, an acceptance that vertical integration doesn’t work in servers, networking or in storage, and the demands of scale out data centers we may be closer than ever to application-aware infrastructure. The kind of IT that when it’s broken (or approaching broken) can right itself.

That’s pretty cool, and it’s exactly what we’ll need if we want our computing to scale.

  1. Typo in summary field:

    “SUMMARY:
    People in a data center add costs, but before we can let the machines take over, applciations…

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