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They're Called Black Boxes Not Invisible Boxes

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

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

I spent hours 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.


STRATEGIC POINTS of CONTROL

Why is that important? Because most of the infrastructure components in a data center are also touch points along the data path in that interconnect that may be required to apply policies to the data in order to secure, accelerate, distribute, and ultimately deliver it. If the organization has no visibility, no control, over those touch points then everything has to be done in the application. Everything.

It’s one thing to obscure IP addresses and routing from customers. In fact that’s a good thing, as the tight-coupling between IP addresses and everything else in a data center is a huge problem that we need to resolve – and soon. It’s quite another to obscure the ability to apply the proper policies to data as it traverses a network from one end-point to another in such a way as the owners of that application data have no control over it. Giving up responsibility did not mean giving up control. The two are not mutually exclusive and, in fact, one should expect that giving up the former does not infer giving up the latter. That’s why it’s so important that infrastructure vendors ensure that their solutions are infrastructure 2.0 enabled with the capability to be remotely controlled through open, standards-based APIs – so cloud computing providers can “black box” the infrastructure in such a way as to shield the customer from the maintenance and management but still allow them to leverage that infrastructure as the strategic point of control on the data path that it is.

Infrastructure solutions exist for reasons other than scalability. There’s a reason those solutions exist and are found in virtually every data center of anyinvisiblebox significant size: because they’re utilized and necessary. Performance, reliability, fault-tolerance, and security concerns don’t magically disappear when an application moves from the data center to the cloud, so why would the solutions that ensure those concerns are addressed disappear?

Black boxes are not supposed to be invisible but by ignoring all the infrastructure that exists outside the server that’s exactly what’s being done. Black boxes are called that because the inner workings of the box are obscured from visibility, but they aren’t supposed to be invisible. Infrastructure can and should be a black box in a public cloud computing environment, but right now it’s all invisible and, unfortunately, that means unusable by customers. Leveraging the APIs that exist today (and those that will certainly exist in the future) to shield customers from the inner workings of the solution but still provide the control to use that infrastructure as it was intended – to assist in the delivery of applications – should be the goal of every cloud provider.

Black boxes? Yes. Invisible boxes? No.

Read the original blog entry...

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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