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Next-Generation Management of Data Centers Should be Modeled on Social Networking

Should the next generation management of network and application network devices look and act more like Facebook and Twitter? Infrastructure 2.0 could take us there.

Y ou may think I’m kidding and certainly I make this proposal with some amount of humorous intent, but there is some value, I think, in applying the concepts of Web 2.0 and social networking to network management systems (NMS).

There’s a reason it’s called social networking, after all. It’s modeled closely on networking and NMS is primarily about managing not just individual network and application network devices, but on managing the relationships between them. “Dependencies” are often included in NMS applications to better visualize and traverse the myriad relationships between network, application network, storage, and applications that make up the data center infrastructure. Understanding which devices are “friends” and which are “followers” is nothing new to NMS and IT professionals who spend their days mired inside these applications.

I occasionally see tweets and press releases regarding new versions of this NMS solution or that, but even the newer ones are all very focused on doing the same old thing with a dash of “cloud” for flavor. If we’re going to completely and potentially irrevocably change the style of computing, shouldn’t we change our methods of management, too?

infrashareWouldn’t it be nice if you could use mechanisms similar to OAuth to connect various devices together and on a granular basis permit the exchange of configuration – relevant polices, for example? And wouldn’t it be even nicer if that exchange could be mediated automatically? When BIG-IP 003 “tweets” a configuration update – such as the launch of a new virtual instance of an application - it is picked up by its followers (including BIG-IP 002) and triggers the appropriate update on its configuration. Facebook style Walls could substitute for text-based log files and provide many of the same features as Web 2.0 and social networking sites do today: sharing with other systems, tagging, marking for later perusal, etc…

Example: you’re perusing through your Apache “Wall”. You see in the log an HTTP request that is obviously an attempt to exploit a vulnerability. You click the “SHARE” button and are presented with a list of all your “network” friends. You choose your firewall/web application firewall and options are immediately presented as to the kind of sharing you want to do. You choose “create a policy to block this IP” and WHAM! No more exploitable requests from that IP address. It’s the virtual patching that White Hat Security has been doing for years married to Facebook. Awesome powerful stuff there.


THIS is WHERE INFRASTRUCTURE 2.0 COULD TAKE US – IF WE WANTED TO GO THERE

I started out by mentioning there is some amount of humorous intent in this idea but the core concept is very serious: the collaboration and relationships that are inherent in Web 2.0 andInfrabook social networking are definitely applicable to managing emerging data center models. The ability to interconnect the network, application network, storage, and applications is paramount to a successful implementation. Without that interconnection - without a dynamic control plane to support the collaboration – any next generation implementation simply adds complexity to an already complex set of systems. Efficiency and indeed agility is achieved through dynamism, and dynamism is achieved through the ability to send and receive actionable data and execute the appropriate processes without requiring human intervention. But we shouldn’t stop at the operational layer. Let’s keep going, up the “stack” and re-examine how we manage these systems. There’s no reason we can’t leverage the robust APIs available [PDF] to control and manage infrastructure solutions to build a next-generation management system that is itself dynamic and collaborative.

How this collaboration is leveraged is completely up to the implementer, which is why even though it may seem funny we certainly could see Facebook/Twitter-style functionality in our HP OpenView/CA Unicenter/IBM Tivoli/<insert NMS here> solutions. There’s no reason why, when most infrastructure 2.0 solutions are capable of SOAPy or RESTful (or both) integration that we can’t create something that’s more collaborative, more integrated, and generally makes the ability to configure and manage systems across multiple installations a bit easier.

Remember the Twitter-bots Joe and I created for BIG-IP? It wasn’t just alerting and notifications; we could command a BIG-IP remotely via Twitter. So my funny idea gets a bit more serious when you consider we’re already leveraging the collaborative capabilities of infrastructure 2.0 to find new ways to manage and interact with network, storage, and application network solutions. There’s a lot we can learn from the success and rapid adoption of social networking and Web 2.0, and primary among those lessons is that collaboration, relationships, and integration doesn’t have to painful. It can be dynamic, simple, and even at times enjoyable.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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