Infrastructure can be a black box only if its knobs and buttons are accessible

I spent hours at Interop yesterday listening to folks talk about “infrastructure.” It’s a hot topic, to be sure, especially as it relates to cloud computing. After all, it’s a keyword in “Infrastructure as a Service.” The problem is that when most of people say “infrastructure” blackbox1it appears what they really mean is “server” and that just isn’t accurate.

If you haven’t been a data center lately there is a whole lot of other “stuff” that falls under the infrastructure moniker in a data center that isn’t a server. You might also have a firewall, anti-virus scanning solutions, a web application firewall, a Load balancer, WAN optimization solutions, identity management stores, routers, switches, storage arrays, a storage network, an application delivery network, and other networky-type devices. Oh there’s more than that but I can’t very well just list every possible solution that falls under the “infrastructure” umbrella or we’d never get to the point.

blockquote In information technology and on the Internet, infrastructure is the physical hardware used to interconnect computers and users. Infrastructure includes the transmission media, including telephone lines, cable television lines, and satellites and antennas, and also the routers, aggregators, repeaters, and other devices that control transmission paths. Infrastructure also includes the software used to send, receive, and manage the signals that are transmitted.

In some usages, infrastructure refers to interconnecting hardware and software and not to computers and other devices that are interconnected. However, to some information technology users, infrastructure is viewed as everything that supports the flow and processing of information.

-- TechTarget definition of “infrastructure”

The reason this is important to remember is that people continue to put forth the notion that cloud should be a “black box” with regards to infrastructure. Now in a general sense I agree with that sentiment but if – and only if – there is a mechanism to manage the resources and services provided by that “black boxed” infrastructure. For example, “servers” are infrastructure and today are very “black box” but every IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) provider offers the means by which those resources can be managed and controlled by the customer. The hardware is the black box, not the software. The hardware becomes little more than a service.

That needs to – nay, must extend to – the rest of the infrastructure. You know, the network infrastructure that is ultimately responsibly for delivering the applications that are being deployed on that black-box server infrastructure. The devices and services that interconnect users and applications. It simply isn’t enough to wave a hand at the network infrastructure and say “it doesn’t matter” because as a matter of fact it certainly does matter.