Managing a heterogeneous infrastructure is difficult enough, but managing a dynamic, ever changing heterogeneous infrastructure that must be stable enough to deliver dynamic applications makes the former look like a walk in the park. Part of the problem is certainly the inability to manage heterogeneous network infrastructure devices from a single management system.

SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), the only truly interoperable network management standard used by infrastructure vendors for over a decade, is not robust enough to deal with the management nightmare rapidly emerging for cloud computing vendors. It's called "Simple" for a reason, after all. And even if it weren't, SNMP, while interoperable with network management systems like HP OpenView and IBM's Tivoli, is not standardized at the configuration level. Each vendor generally provides their own customized MIB (Management Information Base). Customized, which roughly translates to "proprietary"; if not in theory then in practice.

man-pulling-hair-out-2 MIBs are not interchangeable, they aren't interoperable, and they aren't very robust. Generally they're used to share information and are not capable of being used to modify device configuration. In other words, SNMP and customized MIBs are just not enough to support efficient management of a very large heterogeneous data center. As Greg Ness pointed out in his latest blog post on Infrastructure 2.0, the diseconomies of scale in the IP address management space are applicable more generally to the network management space. There's just no good way today to efficiently manage the kind of large, heterogeneous environment required of cloud computing vendors. SNMP wasn't designed for this kind of management any more than TCP/IP was designed to handle the scaling needs of today's applications.

While some infrastructure vendors, F5 among them, have seen fit to provide a standards-based management and configuration framework, none of us are really compatible with the other in terms of methodology. The way in which we, for example, represent a pool or a VIP (Virtual IP address), or a VLAN (Virtual LAN) is not the same way Cisco or Citrix or Juniper represent the same network objects. Indeed, our terminology may even be different; we use pool, other ADC vendors use "farm" or "cluster" to represent the same concept. Add virtualization to the mix and yet another set of terms is added to the mix, often conflicting with those used by network infrastructure vendors. "Virtual server" means something completely different when used by an application delivery vendor than it does when used by a virtualization vendor like VMWare or Microsoft.

And the same tasks must be accomplished regardless of which piece of the infrastructure is being configured. VLANs, IP addresses, gateway, routes, pools, nodes, and other common infrastructure objects must be managed and configured across a variety of implementations. Scaling the management of these disparate devices and solutions is quickly becoming a nightmare for vendors involved in trying to build out large-scale data centers, whether those are large enterprises or cloud computing vendors or service providers.

In a response to Cloud Computing and Infrastructure 2.0, "johnar" points out:

quote-left Companies are forced to either roll the dice on single-vendor solutions for simplicity, or fill the voids with their own home-brew solutions and therefore assume responsibility for a lot of very complex code that is tightly coupled with ever-changing vendor APIs and technology. The same technology that vendors tout as their differentiator is what is causing the integrators grey hair.

Because we all "do it different" with our modern day equivalents of customized MIBs it makes it difficult to integrate all the disparate nodes that make up a full application delivery network and infrastructure into a single, cohesive, efficient management mechanism. We're standards-based, but we aren't based on a single management standard.

And as "johnar" points out, it seems unlikely that we'll "unite for data center peace" any time soon: "Unlike ratifying a new Ethernet standard, there's little motivation for ADC vendors to play nice with each other."

HandHold I think there is motivation and reason for us to play nice with each other in this regard. Disparate competitive vendors came together in the past to ratify Ethernet standards, which led to interoperability and simpler management as we built out the infrastructure that makes the web work today. If we can all agree that application delivery controllers (ADCs) are an integral part of Infrastructure 2.0 (and I'm betting we all can) then in order to forward adoption of ADCs in general and make it possible for customers to choose based on features and functionality then we must make an effort to come together and consider standardizing a management model across the industry. And if we're really going to do it right, we need to encourage other infrastructure vendors to agree on a common base network management model to further simplify management of large heterogeneous network infrastructures. A VLAN is a VLAN regardless of whether it's implemented in a switch, an ADC, or on a server.

If a lack of standards might hold back adoption or prevent the ability of vendors to compete for business, then that's a damn good motivating factor right there for us to unite for data center peace.

If Microsoft, IBM, BEA, and Oracle were able to unite and agree upon a single web services interoperability standard (which they were, the result of which is WS-I) then it is not crazy to think that F5 and its competitors can come together and agree upon a single, standards-based management interface that will drive Infrastructure 2.0 to be reality.

Major shifts in architectural paradigms often require new standards. That's where we got all the WS-* specifications and that's where we got all the 802.x standards: major architectural paradigm shifts.

Cloud computing and the pervasive webification of, well, everything is driving yet another major architectural paradigm shift. And that may very well mean we need new standards to move forward and make the shift as painless as possible for everyone.

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