If you’ve ever read a magazine like Consumer Reports, you know that their criteria for analyzing the cost of a car includes the maintenance costs. That’s because some cars look like a great deal until you start to factor in how difficult and expensive it is to keep them running. The maintenance costs of a vehicle can easily add a significant cost to the total purchase price.
Likewise, when looking at networking equipment you need to figure in the costs of operation on top of the acquisition costs. Networking equipment is designed to be used for years. The more difficult it is to manage and maintain equipment, the more difficult it is to justify the total acquisition price when you factor in time spent by administrators and engineers trying to adapt the solution to their workflows.
One of the companies trying to reduce the time and expense of managing their devices is Extreme Networks. As discussed at the recent Networking Field Day event in January, Extreme has a new SLX platform that has been designed to include additional tools to help administrators do their jobs more efficiently.
The SLX is a very nice platform from the hardware side. 4Gb of RAM and a Haswell processor are included, as is 256Gb of storage. You might think that sounds like a configuration of a desktop PC. In fact, it’s not far from the truth. The x86 platform is being optimized for networking thanks to the efforts of companies like Extreme. But the utility of the platform allows them to do even more with it.
The SLX is built to take the CPU of the system and run the KVM virtualization platform in addition to the processing power needed to operate the switching platform. That means that you can run a VM on top of the switch while it’s processing packets. That sounds interesting, but by itself it’s not very useful.
What increases the utility of the VM is the dedicated 10Gbps analytics path that the switch has directly to the VM. Now, instead of needing to pass analytics traffic through other channels to have it analyzed outside of the system, the SLX can send the traffic directly to the VM running in KVM via a dedicated high-speed channel.
With a dedicated channel for analytics running directly to the VM, you have a ton of capabilities and data exposed to a user-facing system. You can build your own application to run on top of the VM and analyze the traffic, or you can take the lead of Extreme and use some existing applications that are validated for use in the VM. This includes some basic tools that every network administrator should be using, such as TCPdump, PerfSonar, and Puppet. There is also support for Docker containers, so you can build even more lightweight apps to run on the platform. And with full RESTful API support, you have the ability to programmatically make the system work for you.
All of this functionality is designed to make the Extreme SLX easier for you to manage and maintain over the life of the device. But creating a platform that already runs virtualized software you can extend the capabilities of the system for years to come without needing to worry about authorized applications that are months or years behind current. You also don’t have to worry about pushing developers to support a new software package that solves a big problem. Instead, you can build the package support into the SLX platform and run what you need. The flexibility of the platform gives you the kinds of opportunities you need to keep your operation costs low, especially when it comes to the time your networking team is going to put into the system.
Bringing It All Together
Making it easier to get analytics data from switches also makes it super simple to operate a network. Instead of spending hours upon hours trying to figure out how to get the data out of the box, you can instead focus on figuring out what the data is telling you. That means smarter choices about your network health and quicker reactions to issues before they become real problems. That means the overall cost of ownership on your network goes down and your network team is much happier overall. And that’s something worth celebrating.