Services for Managing the Network

Jeff Browning, Director of Product Management for F5, wrote an article entitled “Take a SON Approach for Agile SOA” available for your reading enjoyment at FTPOnline. The article would probably have been better titled “Network Management via Services for Agile SOA” but it still makes some great points, ones that I’ve commented on in the past.

He describes the old world (or perhaps it is today’s world) as set-and-forget.

Load balancers—the network technology most relevant to application architects and developers—were basically installed, set up for round-robin load balancing, and never touched again.

This is certainly an accurate portrayal. He goes on to discuss how there is a tremendous amount of context embedded within SOAP requests that a traditional HTTP load balancer can’t leverage. He points out the importance of this information when servers get overloaded, using an example of a change in interest rate and how it may impact services traffic at a financial services firm.

He then switches to a discussion about the ability to configure network devices. He correctly calls out that most devices provide some user-facing console or command-line interface. While a CLI can be scripted, he states:

These scripts usually work for static environments and events, but the approach conflicts with the agility and flexibility that SOA enables.

He ends with an example where he states:

The network device can monitor requests, look for errors, and invoke configuration changes to alter device setup, adding more standby servers to the pool or even redirecting new requests to another data center running additional instances of the Web service. Additionally, prioritized requests based on client request ID or other factors could be sent to an entirely separate pool of servers hosting the service in a manner optimized for high-demand scenarios.

Based on business priority, the number of server resources, the priority, and dynamic changes to the configuration, automated change can be done seamlessly, with the service and network working together through more network intelligence and control.

Interestingly, this is the exact scenario I used when describing SOA to infrastructure engineers and why they should be concerned about it. I did an informal survey of about 50 of these engineers at one company that each managed a particular device or system in the infrastructure, and of those 50, only 1 product was known to have a web services interface for managing its configuration, and that was F5. I think I actually met Jeff when he stopped by for a briefing at this company. F5, is certainly not the only vendor to do this. I know that IBM DataPower devices expose all of their management capabilities available through their console as Web Services as well. It’s finally nice to see someone touting the importance of this capability, however. Let’s hope other vendors jump on the bandwagon and provide Web Services for managing their products. This means that IBM, HP, Microsoft, and Intel need to start making some progress on the converged management specification promised back in March of 2006.

P.S. Jeff, if you read this, drop me a line. I think I met you during a presentation at a previous employer. I’d love to hear more on what F5 is up to these days.

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