Addressing the Challenges of Multi-Vendor Network Environments

By Olivier Huynh Van, CTO, Glue Networks Inc.


Software-defined networking (SDN) has become synonymous with flexible network automation, allowing IT departments to respond quickly to changing business needs. In the modern data center, SDN allows for highly standardized and customer controlled network environments. However, the complexity of multi-vendor and multi-provider WAN infrastructures represents a much larger challenge that SDN solutions need to address. Enterprises are being forced to attempt to code their own in-house automation via scripting, but many don’t have the resources of Web-scale companies and are largely unsuccessful at automating more than a “load and pray” script while ongoing operations remain manual.

There are various approaches in the market to address these challenges. As enterprises are asking for SDN solutions to achieve a higher degree of automation, most vendors have responded by introducing “controllers” that provide a standardized method to configure their devices using software development tools. This requires network engineers to become programmers, and since these controllers are typically vendor-proprietary and primarily focused on reporting and monitoring, network engineers have to repeat coding for each vendor platform separately and are limited to the functions supported by the controller.

Some vendors have extended their data center-built controllers and added additional features to support heterogeneous WAN environments. Other vendors have created hardware-based solutions that create overlay networks over existing transport networks. Each solution has certain advantages and drawbacks; however, controllers require network engineers to grow into developers, while hardware-based solutions provide only limited feature sets that may or may not be sufficient depending on the particular needs at a specific location. Enterprises can’t always wait for a vendor to include support for specific features in their software.

The situation is even more complex for multi-vendor scenarios typically found in SD-WAN architectures. For example, a typical branch network may already use several pieces of hardware (switches, routers, WAN accelerators) from different vendors, which also needs to be integrated into an SD-WAN solution for a “single pane of glass” view for management.

As the number of enterprise applications continues to explode, networks are evolving into highly complex multi-vendor environments that are unique to each individual enterprise. Legacy network management platforms and current DevOps tools are not built to automate highly customized and interdependent enterprise network feature sets and they do not provide the agility to rapidly respond to business needs.

The reality today is that network engineers find themselves having to wait for vendor APIs or SDKs in order to customize their network, and many times they are provided with too little or too much depth for a specific requirement. The programmability of the network needs to be done by non-programming network engineers and then consumed by operations engineers to simplify the underlying multi-vendor network complexity for lifecycle management. What organizations need today are solutions that support or automate multi-vendor platforms.

Orchestration of this kind will achieve three primary goals:

  1. Simplify network complexity
  2. Reduce network lifecycle costs
  3. Boost network agility

Software defined network orchestration has the opportunity to address these critical issues with a goal of enabling network engineers to automate any combination of current or future multi-vendor networks without “ripping and replacing” existing infrastructure or needing to learn software programming. However, significant innovation and advancement in the current state of the art are required to meet this vision. Given that simplifying multi-vendor complexity is one of the top pain points IT executives currently face, new solutions to solve this problem are undoubtedly on the horizon.

About the author:

Olivier Huynh Van, CTO and co-founder of Glue Networks, is the visionary inventor of Gluware technology and leads R&D for the company. Previously, Olivier was the former CTO of Yelofin Networks, and has 20 years experience designing and managing mission critical global networks for ADM Investor Services, Groupe ODDO & Cie, Natixis, Oxoid and Deutsche Bank. Olivier holds a Master’s Degree in Electronics, Robotics and Information Technology from ESIEA in Paris, France.