Summary:

Webscale players, enterprises and service providers want to keep end users happy as they serve up applications. A crucial ingredient for that is a network that can flex to the needs of each application.

It appears that switches and routers aren’t smart enough to determine the best routes for different kinds of packets to travel down. Rather than thinking of all data in a network as the same, luminaries of today’s network world see opportunities to act on a more nuanced plane with the help of software running on servers.

Webscale companies with big pockets have been making strides in this area with inventions of their own. Take Facebook, for example. The social networking company is hurtling toward the kind of networking that gives both its users and its employees the level of performance they want. Meanwhile it could be that data destined for long-term cold storage should be sent out at a slow and steady pace, and as cost-effectively as possible, while the spigot should be left wide open for the streaming of real-time data for end users, such as status updates.

The next-generation network will go a long way toward helping Facebook enable those kinds of operations, Najam Ahmad, director of technical oeprations in Facebook’s infrastructure division, explained at GigaOM’s Structure conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

But companies smaller than Facebook want to be more choosy about their network use, said Pascale Vicat-Blanc, founder and CEO of Lyatiss. But regardless of the size of the company, it’s not possible to make changes without knowing what’s going on. “The thing is to discover where you have problems — it’s to discover where you have pain.”

One key part of running networks this way is understanding when the servers and virtual machines applications depend on are working well and when the networks aren’t doing their share. Indeed, her company has software to remedy the situation.

But more broadly speaking, the new school of networking emerging now thanks to the rise of software-defined networking (SDN) is for system administrators to be able to act on the fly and make their networks do the best thing for its applications.

“The network engineer that was very specialized and operating on a CLI is now operating on an interconnected system,” Vijay Gill, general manager at Microsoft. What that means is network guys will have to go outside their comfort zones with proprietary Cisco and Juniper operating-system languages and get hip to Python and other programming languages.

SDN isn’t a panacea for imperfect networking, said Dave Husak, founder and CEO of Plexxi. What it can do, he said, is let admins “operate a network as a single system. It gives a perspective on allocating networking resources in a way that satisfies application demands, tenant demands globally.

Check out the rest of our Structure 2013 live coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

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