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The Real Value of Consolidation Revealed

It's not about a "god box," it's about the platform

It's often the case that upon hearing the word "consolidation" in conjunction with the network people conjure up visions of what's commonly known as a "god box."

This mythical manifestation of data center legend allegedly enables every network-related services to be deployed on a single box and gloriously performs without any impact on performance, reliability or security.

You caught the "mythical" qualifier, didn't you?

consolidation1

There is no such thing. Consolidation in the network, like that of server and application infrastructure, isn't about the goal of deploying every application or service on a single "box", rather it's about taking advantage of the benefits of standardizing on a common, shared platform.

Consolidation through server virtualization lowered costs and increased service velocity through standardization on a common platform. Efficiency gains resulting in lower costs were realized by the ability to consistently repeat deployment processes and, ultimately, to automate them through an open API. Cloud is really about the same thing: commoditization is the result of standardization at the platform layer, and rapid provisioning and deployment of applications and services is enabled by a well-defined set of APIs.

Service providers - and large enterprises as well - suffer from network service sprawl.  As pressures mount from daily increases in subscribers and consumers demanding resources, services must scale higher and higher, resulting in what really isn't all that different than "throwing more hardware at the problem." We've just virtualized the hardware is all.

Unfortunately, the breadth of services needed to deliver applications reliably, securely and with attention to performance, are often just point solutions. Each has its own set of APIs (if you're lucky) and management systems, and each comes with a price tag attached to management, maintenance, and integration.

function-based-deployment It doesn't matter if they're all virtualized. That standardizes only the server and deployment platforms, the hypervisor and the hardware, and does nothing to address the disparity at the service platform layer. That's the layer where the actual services are deployed - and managed, and automated and integrated. It's at the platform layer where opportunities to realize significant cost and efficiency savings exist because that's where the overhead of an extremely heterogeneous service fabric is greatest.

Consider that the administrative cost of ownership of a solution is pegged at about 20% of the cost (8% administrative overhead, including training, and 12% operational costs such as maintenance and management). So if you spent $100,000 on a firewall, for example, the cost of administration for that solution is approximately $20,000. Some of that cost is a one-time investment, so let's agree for this discussion it's actually closer to 10% over time. So each $100,000 solution you deploy for a specific purpose - a functional approach - is going to cost you $10,000. If you need four different functions, that's a total of $40,000.

Now, consider a platform approach, where much of the administrative and operational costs can be collapsed. There's only one management console, one API style, one taxonomy, one terminology set, one core set of technologies to learn.

platform-based-deploymentThat knowledge is shared across every solution. Once you invest in the training and know the platform, you know the platform for every other solution you might deploy atop it - whether it's on the same physical box or not.  The same core technologies, the same terminology, the same management paradigm. That translates into lower costs. If 10% of administrative cost of the solution is shared because of a common (standardized) platform, then you're saving a lot of money every time you deploy a new function. In this hypothetical example, you're saving $30,000 by taking a platform approach to deploying network functions.

The point is not the numbers, which I totally made up, but that there are significant advantages to standardizing on a platform-based approach in the network. It is this premise upon which emerging technologies like SDN are based. It's the commonality of the platform which results in standardized management and administrative that produces significant cost (and time) savings for organizations.

Consolidation is not about buying the biggest box you can find and deploying everything on that one box. Sure, that is probably more cost-effective but we all know that's not realistic - performance and capacity are constrained by operational axiom #2: as load increases, performance decreases.

Consolidation is about adopting a strategic, platform approach. Not a one box to rule them all approach.

Additional Resources:

  1. F5 Synthesis: The Time is Right
  2. F5 and Cisco: Application-Centric from Top to Bottom and End to End
  3. F5 Synthesis: Software Defined Application Services
  4. F5 Synthesis: Integration and Interoperability
  5. F5 Synthesis: High-Performance Services Fabric
  6. F5 Synthesis: Leave no application behind

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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.