From mammoth hunting to military maneuvers to the datacenter, the key to success is control

Recalling your elementary school lessons, you’ll probably remember that mammoths were large and dangerous creatures and like most animals they were quite deadly to primitive man. But yet man found a way to hunt them effectively and, we assume, with more than a small degree of success as we are still here and, well, the mammoths aren’t.

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Marx Cavemen PHOTO AND ART WORK : Fred R Hinojosa.

The theory of how man successfully hunted ginormous creatures like the mammoth goes something like this: a group of hunters would single out a mammoth and herd it toward a point at which the hunters would have an advantage – a narrow mountain pass, a clearing enclosed by large rock, etc… The qualifying criteria for the place in which the hunters would finally confront their next meal was that it afforded the hunters a strategic point of control over the mammoth’s movement. The mammoth could not move away without either (a) climbing sheer rock walls or (b) being attacked by the hunters.

By forcing mammoths into a confined space, the hunters controlled the environment and the mammoth’s ability to flee, thus a successful hunt was had by all. At least by all the hunters; the mammoths probably didn’t find it successful at all.

Whether you consider mammoth hunting or military maneuvers or strategy-based games (chess, checkers) one thing remains the same: a winning strategy almost always involves forcing the opposition into a situation over which you have control. That might be a mountain pass, or a densely wooded forest, or a bridge. The key is to force the entire complement of the opposition through an easily and tightly controlled path. Once they’re on that path – and can’t turn back – you can execute your plan of attack.

These easily and highly constrained paths are “strategic points of control.” They are strategic because they are the points at which you are empowered to perform some action with a high degree of assurance of success. In data center architecture there are several “strategic points of control” at which security, optimization, and acceleration policies can be applied to inbound and outbound data. These strategic points of control are important to recognize as they are the most efficient – and effective – points at which control can be exerted over the use of data center resources.


DATA CENTER STRATEGIC POINTS of CONTROL

In every data center architecture there are aggregation points. These are points (one or more components) through which all traffic is forced to flow, for one reason or another. image

For example, the most obvious strategic point of control within a data center is at its perimeter – the router and firewalls that control inbound access to resources and in some cases control outbound access as well. All data flows through this strategic point of control and because it’s at the perimeter of the data center it makes sense to implement broad resource access policies at this point.

Similarly, strategic points of control occur internal to the data center at several “tiers” within the architecture. Several of these tiers are:

Storage virtualization provides a unified view of storage resources by virtualizing storage solutions (NAS, SAN, etc…). Because the storage virtualization tier manages all access to the resources it is managing, it is a strategic point of control at which optimization and security policies can be easily applied.

Application Delivery / load balancing virtualizes application instances and ensures availability and scalability of an application. Because it is virtualizing the application it therefore becomes a point of aggregation through which all requests and responses for an application must flow. It is a strategic point of control for application security, optimization, and acceleration.

Network virtualization is emerging internal to the data center architecture as a means to provide inter-virtual machine connectivity more efficiently than perhaps can be achieved through traditional network connectivity. Virtual switches often reside on a server on which multiple applications have been deployed within virtual machines. Traditionally it might be necessary for communication between those applications to physically exit and re-enter the server’s network card. But by virtualizing the network at this tier the physical traversal path is eliminated (and the associated latency, by the way) and more efficient inter-vm communication can be achieved. This is a strategic point of control at which access to applications at the network layer should be applied, especially in a public cloud environment where inter-organizational residency on the same physical machine is highly likely.


OLD SKOOL VIRTUALIZATION EVOLVES 

You might have begun noticing a central theme to these strategic points of control: they are all points at which some kind of virtualization – and thus aggregation – occur naturally in a data center architecture. This is the original (first) kind of virtualization: the presentation of many resources as a single resources, a la load balancing and other proxy-based solutions. When there is a one —> many (1:M) virtualization solution employed, it naturally becomes a strategic point of control by virtue of the fact that all “X” traffic must flow through that solution and thus policies regarding access, security, logging, etc… can be applied in a single, centrally managed location.

The key here is “strategic” and “control”. The former relates to the ability to apply the latter over data at a single point in the data path.

This kind of 1:M virtualization has been a part of datacenter architectures since the mid 1990s. It’s evolved to provide ever broader and deeper control over the data that must traverse these points of control by nature of network design. These points have become, over time, strategic in terms of the ability to consistently apply policies to data in as operationally efficient manner as possible. Thus have these virtualization layers become “strategic points of control”.

And you thought the term was just another square on the buzz-word bingo card, didn’t you?