The Network is the Cloud

The old Sun Microsystems used to have a slogan that said “The network is the computer.” I’ve been thinking about the role of the network, at least in an enterprise, and I think the network is the cloud. No, not the cloud like IaaS, but cloud as in a magic box that everything depends on an is taken for granted.


It used to be that the network was something that was used occasionally for a specific business process. You had to get on the network to check inventory, look up a client record, or some other specific thing. The rest was either done on a local computer or on paper. If a network device reloaded, especially in the middle of the night, no one was likely to notice. The networking team could do maintenance during off hours and the users would be blissfully unaware. They probably didn’t even bother to send notice of the work, because no one cared. Of course, they should have, but that’s a different blog post.

Times have changed. Everything runs on the network now. Important devices like HVAC controllers migrated from dedicated POTS lines to the network. IT may not even have known until they receive a support ticket. Every business process ends up using the network in some way. Monolithic computing services turn into multi-machine clusters that blow up in bizarre ways if the members lose connectivity to each other.

Perhaps an iSCSI SAN pops up. It probably started on dedicated network gear, but after a while gets tied into the main network because running the separate network gets to be a hassle or buying “extra” 10Gb switches isn’t in the budget. It’s so easy to just make it another VLAN and let it converge.

Suddenly, after years of running in a silo, you realize you can’t do things the old way anymore. The network is now a critical service to the entire enterprise. You have to seek network equipment that can be updated without dropping packets. Designs get far more complex as HA becomes critical. Server, network, and application teams have to work together more closely because they need at least a high level understanding of each other’s designs so they can predict the impacts of changes.

Now you need some form of change management. It might not be some formalized processes, but teams at least send emails to each other to make sure there aren’t unexpected problems. There are unexpected problems, anyway. Usually complex interactions that don’t manifest themselves until business hours kick in, it seems.

Every system has become complex. Every system seems to affect every other system in some way. And all of it is running on your network. Your network is the cloud, you just didn’t know it.


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