Networks Generation

May 1, 2014  11:54 AM

Finally Solving Network and Storage Capacity Planning?

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Capacity planning, CiRBA, Networking, Requirement, Virtualisation, VMware

Interesting how some elements of IT seem to be around forever without being cracked.

remember working with a couple of UK start-ups in the 90s on network, server and application capacity planning and automation of resource allocation etc – and the problem was that the rate of change always exceeded our capabilities to keep up with. Moving into the virtualised world just seemed to make the trick even harder.

Now, I’m not sure if IT has slowed down (surely not!) or whether the developers are simply getting smarter, but there do seem to be solutions around now to do the job. Latest example is from CiRBA – where the idea is to enable a company to see the true amount of server and storage resources required versus the amount that is currently allocated by application, department or operating division in virtualised and cloud infrastructures, not simply in static environments. The result? Better allocation and infrastructure decisions, reducing risk and eliminating over-provisioning, at least if they use it correctly!

If it resolves the ever-lasting issue of over-provisioning and the $$$$ that goes with that, then praise be to the god of virtualisation… Who’s called what exactly?  So the idea with CiRBA’s new, and snappily titled, Automated Capacity Control software, is to actively balance capacity supply with application demand by providing complete visibility into server, storage and network capacity based on both existing and future workload requirements.  The software is designed to accurately determine the true capacity requirements based on technical, operational and business policies as well as historical workload analysis, all of which is required to get the correct answer pumped out at the end.

So, bit by bit, it looks like we’re cracking the 2014 virtualised network management problem. Look out for an article by me on deploying and managing distributed virtualised networks in CW in the near future…


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Continued »

April 11, 2014  1:28 PM

Benchmarking Integration…

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Application Programming Interface, Big Data, Business, Data integration, Enterprise Resource Planning, Integration, Internet, Software as a Service, Spirent, TIBCO, VoIP, Voipex

Just finished some testing at test equipment partner Spirent’s offices in glamorous Crawley with client Voipex – some fab results on VoIP optimization so watch this space for the forthcoming report – and it made me think just how different testing is now.

In the old days of Ethernet switch testing and the like, it was all very straightforward. Now, however, we’re in the realms of multiple layers of software all delivering optimisation of one form or another, such as the aforementioned Voipex, but equally with less obviously benchmarked elements such as business flow processes. Yet we really do need to measure the impact of software in these areas in order to validate the vendor claims. 

One example is with TIBCO – essentially automating data processing and business flows across all parts of the networks (so we’re talking out to mobile devices etc) in real-time. Data integration has always been a fundamental problem – and requirement – for companies, both in terms of feeding data to applications and to physical devices, but now that issue is clearly both more fundamental, and more difficult, than ever in our virtual world of big data = unorganised chaos in its basic form.

TIBCO has just launched the latest version of its snappily-named ActiveMatrix BusinessWorks product and the company claims that it massively increases the speed with which new solutions can be configured and deployed, a single platform to transform lots of data into efficiently delivered data and lots of other good stuff. In a Etherworld that is made up of thousands of virtual elements now, and that is constantly changing in topology, this is important stuff.

As TIBCO put it themselves, “Organisations are no longer just integrating internal ERP, SaaS, custom or legacy applications; today they’re exposing the data that fuels their mobile applications, web channels and open APIs.” Without serious management and optimisation that’s a disaster waiting to happen.

 Just one more performance test scenario for me to get my head around then….


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November 5, 2013  2:27 PM

Reinventing Network Management

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
cloud, Data communications, Enterprise, ISP, Managed Services, MSP, Network, Network management, Network performance, xSP

Network management is the proverbial bus syndrome – nothing shows up forever and then there’s a whole queue of them  – in this case interesting technologies, but here’s the really interesting one I’m about to start testing with – Moogsoft.

Think radical invention of network management and you’re getting there – the name and website give some clues I guess that this isn’t mainstream, me-too stuff… 
So here’s the problem – network management, even in its modern incarnation of application performance monitoring and all the variations on a theme, is all about some concept of a network configuration being stable and predictable. So the idea is that you, over time, build up a “rich database” of information regarding all elements of the network – hardware and software – so that there’s a level of intelligence to access when identifying problems (and potential problems). OK, except that, if you have a network deployment that is part cloud (or managed service of some description), part-virtualised and otherwise outsourced to some extent, how can you possibly know what the shape of that network is. Even as the service provider you cannot… 
It therefore doesn’t matter how much networking data you collect  – effectively you have to start from scratch every time, because the network is dynamic, not static, so any historical data is not necessarily correct. And we all know what happens in you make decisions based on inaccurate data… Moogsoft therefore says, forget about the existing methodologies – they don’t work any longer. Instead it uses algorithm-based techniques to establish concurrent relationships between all aspects of the network when an anomalous situation is identified – looking at every possible cause-effect possibility. And it works in a true, collaborative environment – after all, network management is not detached from other aspects of the network in the same way that user A in department X is not detached from user B in department Y. So every “element” of the “network” is relevant and involved.
Sounds like an impossible to scale scenario? Well how about handling 170m incidents a day? And taking resolution time down from hours and days to minutes? Sounds too good to be true? Maybe so, but these are recorded results involving a famous, global Internet player.
Watch out for the Broadband-Testing report on the Moogsoft solution – should be somewhat interesting!!!!
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October 22, 2013  9:16 AM

Trouble-Ticketing – The Future Is Here!

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Autotask, Cloud Computing, helpdesk, ITIL, ITSM, SaaS, SDN, Software as a Service, Thingamy

IT doesn’t so much go round in circles as overlapping rings – think the Olympic sign. That’s to say, it does repeat itself but with additions and a slightly changed working environment each time.

So, for the past few decades we’ve had good old Helpdesk, Trouble-Ticketing and related applications in every half-decent sized network across the globe; incredibly conservative, does what it says on the tin applications, typically created by incredibly conservative, does what it says on the tin ISVs. Nowt wrong with that, but nothing to get excited about either.
However, in a chat last week with the guys from Autotask at a gig in Barca – these guys have been around for over a decade, building business steadily… until recently, that is, since when they’ve been expanding faster than the average Brit’s waistline (and that’s some expansion rate!). 
So why? How can a humdrum, take it for granted network app suddenly become “sexy”? Speaking with Mark Cattini, CEO of Autotask, a couple of points immediately make things clearer. One is that we have that rare example of a Brit in charge of a US company (since three years ago), and a Brit who’s seen it all from both sides of the fence, pond and universe. So he understands the concept of “International”. Secondly, we have an instance of a product having been written from day one as a SaaS application, long before SaaS was invented – think about the biz flow product I’ve spoken about (and tested) many times here – Thingamy – and it’s the same story, just a complimentary app that is all part of the “bigger picture”.
The cloud, being forced on the IT world, is perfect for the likes of Autotask. It gives them the deployment and management flexibility that enables a so-called deluxe trouble-ticketing and workflow app to become a fundamental tool for the day-to-day running of a network (and a business) on a global scale. I was talking the other day with another ITSM client of mine, Laurence Coady of Richmond Systems, and he was saying how the cloud has enabled the company’s web-enabled version of its ITSM suite to go global from an office in Hampshire, with virtually no sales and marketing costs involved, thanks to the likes of Amazon’s cloud.
Mark Cattini spoke about his pre-Autotask days including a long stint in International sales with Lotus Notes. I made the point that Notes created an entire sub-industry with literally thousands of apps designed specifically to work with and support Notes – almost a pre-Internet Internet. While it seems absurd to say that something as “long-winded” as ITSM-related products can become the next Notes, think about it in a business/workflow perspective within a cloud infrastructure, given that there are open APIs to all this software (so anyone can join in) and given that no one really knows what “big data” is and we have a genuine infrastructure for building the next generation networks on – real software defined networking in other words!
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September 9, 2013  4:04 PM

Big Data = Big Transfer Speeds?

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Big Data, hollywood, Unstructured data, WAN acceleration

So – there’s been all this talk about Big Data and how it’s replaced classic transactional processing in many application instances.

This much is true – what hasn’t been discussed much, however, is how this impacts on performance; big data – say digital video – has hugely different transfer characteristics to transactional processing and it simply doesn’t follow that supplying “big bandwidth” means “big performance” for “big data” transfers.
For example – I’m currently consulting on a project in the world of Hollywood media and entertainment, where the name of the game is transferring digital video files as quickly (and accurately – all must be in sequence) as possible. The problem is that, simply providing a 10Gig pipe doesn’t mean you can actually fill it!

We’ve proved with tests in the past that latency, packet loss and jitter all have very significant impacts on bandwidth utilisation as the size of the network connection increases.


For example, when we set up tests with a 10Gbps WAN link and round trip latencies varying from 50ms to 250ms to simulate national and international (e.g. LA to Bangalore for the latter) connections, we struggled to use even 20% of the available bandwidth in some cases with a “vanilla” – i.e. non-optimised – setup.


Current “behind closed doors” testing is showing performance of between 800KBps- 1GBps (that’s gigabYTEs) on a 10Gbps connection but we’re looking to  improve upon that.


We’re also asking the question – can you even fill a pipe when the operational environment is ideal – i.e. low latency and minimal jitter and packet loss for TCP traffic? – and the answer is absolutely not necessarily; not without some form of optimisation, that is.

Obviously, some tweaking of server hardware will provide “some” improvement, but not significant in testing we’ve done in the past. Adam Hill, CTO of our client Voipex, offered some advice here:

The bottom line is that, in this scenario, we are almost certainly facing several issues. The ones which ViBE (Voipex’s technology) would solve ( and probably the most likely of their problems ) are:


1) It decouples the TCP throughput from the latency and jitter component by controlling the TCP congestion algorithm itself rather than allowing the end user devices to do that.


2) It decouples the MTU from that of the underlying network, so that MTU sizes can be set very large on the end user devices regardless of whether the underlying network supports such large MTUs.”

Other things to consider are frame, window and buffer sizes, relating to whichever specific server OS is being used (this is a fundamental of TCP optimisation), but thereafter we really are treading on new ground. Which is fun, After all, the generation of WanOp products that have dominated for the past decade were not designed with 10Gbps+ links in mind.

Anyway – this is a purely “to set the ball rolling” entry and I welcome all responses, suggestions etc, as we look to the future and filling 40Gbps and 100Gbps pipes  – yes they will arrive in the mainstream at some point in the not massively distant future!   

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February 19, 2013  10:01 AM

Anything New For 2013?

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
cloud, Data communications, HP, openflow, SDN, ViBE, Voipex

So here we are, already several weeks into 2013 and is there anything new to report on the networking front?

Not really – currently the same stories as we’ve been hearing for the past year or two – SDN, Cloud etc…. I am, at least, about to put some element of cloud to the test with Aryaka – WanOp as a cloud-based service. More details on this shortly, but we will be testing it as a regular customer; i.e. remote login via the Internet etc, so this will be a true user-style test case.
Also just finished some repeat testing with an old client, Voipex – the company has always had an excellent VoIP optimisation story but now it has added lots of data networking functionality that gives it a very different angle to the default WanOp players. The report will be appearing shortly on the Broadband-Testing website.
Meantime, back to the world of SDN etc – is anyone really buying into it properly at the moment, rather than just a bit of toe-dipping with OpenFlow etc? That question applies equally to end users and vendors… Or are we simply in another of those eras of solutions seeking problems?
Answers on the back of a hybrid real/virtual postcard in a dropbox at the end of your ‘net connection!
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November 22, 2012  12:04 PM

Did You Know That HP Is A Networking Company?

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Autonomy, ESSN, Hewlett-Packard, HP, Networking, ProCurve, ProLiant

Thus it has always been so – HP networking, AKA ProCurve in the “old days”, has been a success in spite of its “parent” company and, today, amidst the doom and gloom financial results the company has posted, and all the Autonomy naming, blaming and shaming going on, I couldn’t help but help notice three little but significant words in one paragraph of the story in Microscope – Note – paragraph from one of the many HP/Autonomy stories around, focusing on the doom and gloom of HP losing money “everywhere”, but note the three magic words I’ve highlighted in the snippet below. See if you can spot them…

“In its day-to-day business, HP revealed it had had another predictably awful quarter at Personal Systems, with revenue down 14% as the unit fought for its piece of the ever-shrinking PC market. Printing sales were down 5%, Services declined 6% and ESSN declined 9%, with growth in Networking offset by shrinkage in Industry Standard Servers and Storage, while Business Critical Servers dropped 25%.”

Nothing changes…

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November 13, 2012  3:50 PM

Talari – It’s Not Channel Bonding!

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Broadband, MPLS, QoS, WAN

Some of you may have seen earlier blogs, and even the Broadband-Testing report, on our recently acquired US client Talari Networks, whose technology basically lets you combine multiple broadband Internet connections (and operators) to give you the five-nine’s levels of reliability (and performance) associated with them damnedly expensive MPLS-based networks, for a lot less dosh.

 You can actually connect up to eight different operators, though according to Talari, this was not enough for one potential customer who said “but what if all eight networks go down at the same time?” Would dread having to provide the budget for that bloke’s dinner parties – “yes I know we’ve only got four guests, but I thought we should do 24 of each course, just in case there’s a failure or two…”

Anyway – one potential issue (other than paranoia) for some was the entry cost; not crazy money but not pennies either. So, it makes sense for Talari to move “up” in the world, so that the relative entry cost is less significant and that’s exactly what they’ve done with the launch of the high(er)-end Talari Mercury T5000 – a product designed for applications such as call centres that have the utmost requirements for reliability and performance and where that entry cost is hugely insignificant once it saves a few outages; or even just the one.

If you still haven’t got wot they do, in Talari-ese it provides “end-to-end QoS across multiple, simultaneous, disparate WAN networks, combining them into a seamless constantly monitored secure virtual WAN”.  Or, put another way, it gives you more resilience (and typically more performance) than an MPLS-based network for a lot lower OpEx.

So where exactly does it play? The T5000 supports bandwidth aggregation up to 3.0Gbps upstream/3.0 Gbps downstream across, of course, up to eight WAN connections. It also acts as a control unit for all other Talari appliances, including the T510 for SOHO and small branch offices, and the T730, T750 and T3000 for large branch offices and corporate/main headquarters, for up to 128 branch connections.

I‘s pretty flexible then, and just to double-check, we’re going to be let loose on the new product in the new year, so watcheth this space…

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October 4, 2012  3:17 PM

Physical Software Defined Networking…

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
data-centre, HP, Netevents, SDN, SDN controller, VAN

Following on from last week’s OD of SDN at Netevents, we have some proper, physical (ironically) SDN presence in the launch of an SDN controller from HP.


This complete the story I covered this summer of HPs SDN solution – the Virtual Application Network – which we’re still hoping to test asap. Basically the controller gives you an option of proprietary or open (OpenFlow), or both.


The controller, according to the HP blurb, moves network intelligence from the hardware to the software layer, giving businesses a centralised view of their network and a way to automate the configuration of devices in the infrastructure. In addition, APIs will be available, so that third-party developers can create enterprise applications for these networks. HPs own examples include Sentinel Security – a product for network access control and intrusion prevention and some Virtual Cloud Networks software, which will enable cloud providers to bring to market more automated and scalable public-cloud services.


Now it’s a case of seeing is believing – bring it on HP!

And here’s my tip for next buzz-phrase mania – “Data Centre In A Box”; you heard it here (if not) first…

September 28, 2012  8:43 AM

Paradigm 13 Shift 2 SDN (lost count)

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead
Netevents, Network management, openflow, SDN

Such was the count at the end of Day 1 of Netevents Portugal. Thirteen “paradigm’s” and two “paradigm shifts”. Surprisingly there were no “out of the boxes” and only one “granularity” reference. It should also be noted that the “p” word” was used by at least four different nationalities, so it’s not a single country syndrome.

But the winner for “fully embraced buzz-phrase” has to be SDN or Software Defined Network, something we’ve spoken about in this blog on more than one occasion, including yesterday. The thing is, regardless of whether it is simply what network management should have been all along (or not), something really IS going on here – real products, services, open (OpenFlow) and proprietary (the rest) and pilot customers. It is, therefore, realistic to suggest that we are going to move into phase III of IT; mainframe, then networked and now SDN – i.e. fully separating the control and management of network traffic (users and application) from the physical components – switches, routers etc. For it to be truly worthwhile, SDN has to enable us to manage the network on a per user, per application, per connection (end to end) basis.
Is this feasible? Certainly. Does anyone have a true, fully-working solution? Watch this space – at least until Wednesday, when I can reveal one client of Broadband-Testing who has all the components; now just let us loose on the testing of said solution…

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