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Platform Is Strategy. Product Is Tactics

One of the primary reasons our networks are the way they are is that we're reactive

Inarguably one of the drivers of software-defined architectures (cloud, SDDC, and SDN) as well as movements like DevOps is the complexity inherent in today's data center networks. For years now we've added applications and services, and responded to new threats and requirements from the business with new boxes and new capabilities. All of them cobbled together using traditional networking principles that adhere to providing reliability and scale through redundancy.

The result is complex, hard to manage, and even more difficult to change at a moments notice.

Emerging architectural models based solely on cloud computing models or as part of larger, software-defined initiatives, attempt to resolve this issue by introducing abstraction and programmability. To get around the reality that deploying new services in a timely manner takes days if not weeks or even months, we figure that by moving to a programmatic, software-based model we can become more efficient.

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Except we aren't becoming more efficient, we're just doing what we've always done. We're just doing it faster. We're not eliminating complexity, we're getting around it by adding a layer of scripts and integration designed to make us forget just how incredibly complex our networks really are.

One of the primary reasons our networks are the way they are is that we're reactive.

What we've been doing for years now is just reacting to events. Threats, new applications, new requirements - all these events inevitably wind up with IT deploying yet another "middle box." A self-contained appliance - hardware or software - that does X. Protects against X, improves Y, enhances Z.  And then something else happens and we do it again. And again. And ... you get the point. We react and the result is an increasingly complex topological nightmare we call the data center network.

What we need to do is find a better model, a strategic model that enables us to deploy those solutions that protect against X, improve Y and enhance Z without adding complexity and increasing the already confusing topology in the network. We need to break out of our tactical mode and start thinking strategically so we can transform IT to be what it needs to be to align IT results with business expectations.

That means we need to start thinking platform, not product.

Platform is Strategic. Product is Tactical.

We know that the number of services actually in use in the data center has been increasing in response to all the technological shifts caused by trends like security, cloud and mobility. We’ve talked to customers that have more than 20 different services (and vendors) delivering services critical to the security, performance and reliability of applications. Every time a new threat or a new trend impacts the data center, we respond with a new service.

That’s one of the reasons you rarely see a detailed architectural diagram at the application flow level – because every single interaction with a customer, partner or employee can have its own unique flow and that flow traverses a variety of services depending on the user, device, network and application and even business purpose.

That's the product way.

What we need to do is shift our attention to platforms, and leverage them to reduce complexity while at the same time solving problems - and doing so faster and more efficiently. That's one of the primary benefits of Synthesis.

Synthesis' High Performance Services Fabric is built by gluing together a platform - the ADC - using new scalability models (ScaleN). The platform is what enables organizations to deploy a wide variety of services but gain operational efficiencies from the fact that the underlying platform is the same. F5 Software Defined Application Services (SDAS) are all deployable on the same, operationally consistent platform regardless of where it might physically reside. Cloud, virtual machine or hardware makes no difference. It's the platform that brings consistency to the table and enables rapid provisioning of new services that protect X, improve Y and enhance Z.

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In the past year we've brought a number of new services to the Synthesis architecture including Cloud Identity Federation, Web Anti-Fraud, Mobile optimizations and a Secure Web Gateway. All these services were immediately deployable on the existing platform that comprises the Synthesis High Performance Services Fabric. As we add new capabilities and services, they, too, are deployable on the same platform, in the same fabric-based approach and immediately gain all the benefits that come from the platform: massive scalability, high performance, reliability and hardened security.

A platform approach means you can realize a level of peace of mind about the future and what might crop up next. Whether it's a new business requirement or a new threat, using a platform approach means no more shoehorning a new box into the topology. It means being able to take advantage of operational consistency across cloud and on-premise deployments. It means being able to expand capabilities without needing to expand budgets to support new training, new services, and new contracts.

A platform approach to service deployment in data center networks is strategic. And with the constant rate of change headed our way thanks to the Internet of Things and mobility, the one thing we can't afford to to go without is a sound strategy for dealing with the technological ramifications on the network.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.