The Network Is Still The Computer

In 1984, John Gage, Badge #21 at Sun Microsystems in Menlo Park California coined the phrase “The Network Is The Computer”.

Almost 40 years later, we realize that he proposed a vision that foreshadowed the Cloud Computing, Software as a Service (SaaS), consumption, utility and subscription-based era of today and beyond. The Network Is Still The Computer.

Telcos (aka Carriers) were never motivated to evolve the Wide Area Network (WAN) in the pre Internet Protocol (IP) world. A major reason was the lucrative recurring revenue streams from network products such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) which are still in use today for critical business applications. In the Cloud age, the modernization of telco networks with software defined constructs moves at telco speed – snail-scale. They lag well behind the pace and direction of cloud computing. Broadband, Dedicated Internet Access (DIA), Wireless (Long Term Evolution-LTE, 4G and now 5G) have become conduits linking branch, remote and home offices and COVID isolationists. For business, the performance profile of the internet around the world, is characteristically unpredictable especially when global connectivity creates demands for application performance over “oceans of distance”. Digital Transformation has fueled the need for quality, rapid cloud and mobile application development and deployment.

DevOps is the consolidation of IT Software Development and IT Operations, in pursuit of a more rapid and efficient systems development cycle.

DevOps smooths out the software release cycle treadmill which typically occurs in 3-6 month intervals. Contrary to these legacy discrete models, this new model optimizes continuous application delivery without compromising software quality. These initiatives have benefitted Cloud Service Providers (CSP) such as Google, AWS, Microsoft Azure and Oracle Cloud. DevOps concentrates on compute, storage, and native cloud constructs supporting intra-region and inter-region requirements within each of the CSP offerings. WAN was never top of mind. In fact CSPs recommends that application workloads are deployed in locations that are geographically close (aka CSP Regions) to end users in order to sustain adequate performance thresholds. The goal was to keep cloud end users response times at least as good as it was on their legacy, client server, Local Area Network (LAN) experience. These same recommendations exist for content delivery providers in the multi-media space.

VPNs, gateways and security appliances stitch this WAN challenge Quilt (aka Fabric) together. CSP Cloud Architects typically have specific cloud native skills but lack networking skills. The challenge is attracting and retaining these highly trained, valued resources. Multi-cloud (ie. Google, AWS, MS Azure and Oracle Cloud) compounds this resource challenge. Multi-Cloud plays out for two reasons. One, by choice of specialized applications in best of breed CSPs. Two, multi-cloud supports an N-vendor strategy that eliminates the “all your eggs in one basket” procurement corner, yielding healthier vendor contract negotiations and better price performance.

The WAN is a bottleneck for Digital Transformation, Globalization, Software as a Service (SaaS), multi-cloud, traditional remote/mobile workers and “branch of 1” WFH (Work From Home) pandemic isolationists. In the DIY WAN model, making a network quilt with patches of MPLS, DIA, LTE, 4G, 5G, VPN, Gateways, Edge Access Devices, Security Appliances, Cloud, Branch, Headquarters and Data Centres is a monumental task in a cloud-enabled world. The Network Is Still The Computer and it needs to be orchestrated and managed at cloud scale.

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Both Sides, Now – Canadian Joni Mitchell