Why Disaggregation? Why Now?
White box networking and servers, Virtualization and cloud based computing. All of these are related to a single trend in the computer networking world: disaggregation, or rather the splitting of hardware from software. The buzz around this new trend is obvious once you connect all the pieces together, but the drivers behind the disaggregation movement might not be. Why disaggregate, and why now? There are several answers to these questions, but the two most important ones revolve around intertwined complexity in the business and networking technology worlds. Businesses right now, face a landscape where business and technology are intertwined in somewhat specialized silos designed to solve specific problem sets.
Looking at the applications sitting on the top of each silo, one thing should be readily apparent: everything is changing. Unified communications, market analysis, and compliance are being blended via the mobility explosion. Accounting and sales are being blended with the prediction and marketing as well as IP and data protection because of newer data driven ways of doing business.
Looking at the supporting technologies and ideas along the bottom, ends up yielding the same result. It's becoming too difficult to manage and control individual systems for each silo, so everything is moving onto the data center fabric with "generic" compute and storage hardware. In terms of hardware and networking, everything is changing.
This silo problem is a classic problem in complexity; systems with a lot of silos end up with a lot of parallel systems, a lot of state being moved around that needs to be managed and corralled, and a lot of places where the different systems touch one another (interaction surfaces). The solution to this classical problem is the wasp waist.
Focusing the middle into a single common piece allows the business requirements to move and the infrastructure to move while giving everything in the system a single place to interconnect. This concept greatly simplifies the system as a whole. In fact, it's a common design in network engineering, used in such traditional models as traditional hierarchical designs and the traditional (in fact, way beyond its useful date in modern networking terms) seven layer model of network protocols.
How does disaggregation fit into this picture? Traditionally (as the OSI seven layer model indicates) the network layer is the "wasp waist" of the networking system. Bringing everything back to a single transport is still a good design principle, but we need more than this. The single transport is now being pulled into a thousand different directions to support appliances and multiple control planes. The single transport is being split along network modules or silos to support different applications based on different physical requirements.
One answer is to draw a base layer of system software, from the network to the applications, into the wasp waist, complexity can be driven back down again. Every application can be built with a small set of common operating systems in mind, and any hardware platform can be used to support those applications. To draw this software in, however, the software must be disaggregated from the hardware platform. Hence, disaggregation provides a way to actually simplify the total network and processing system as a whole.
There is a second answer, as well. The architecture that controls the business is expressed in terms of software. By drawing software out into the open (disaggregating it from the hardware), and managing it as a separate component, the business can directly control the relationship between its processes and architecture. When you disaggregate, buying one hardware platform from one vendor, and another from another vendor, no longer ends up being a problem to be resolved at the business process level.
Disaggregation, then addresses two problems: the complexity of the overall system, and the ability of the business to control its own destiny. White box, bright box, overlays, componentization, and a host of other current trends in the information technology world come down to this point: there must be an easier way, and there must be a way that allows businesses to gain control over their future.