Modern networks taking lessons from nature

What if the technology could mimic and learn from a resilient system? What if we could vaccinate the infrastructure against outages? We might still experience an initial outage, and the pain associated with it, but future outages would hardly be felt.

Sean Kopelke Oct 03rd 2018 A-A+
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Enterprise Networks, which are an enterprise’s communication backbone, start their lives as simple structures, but over time, they grow in size, scope and overall complexity. When outages occur, they often do so at the most unfortunate times – Murphy’s Law, creating a difficult situation for IT teams and the organizations entrusted to them. While they work around the clock to fix the bug, it seems to be a cycle which is destined to repeat itself, again and again, with no end in sight.

But what if the technology could mimic and learn from a resilient system? What if we could vaccinate the infrastructure against outages? We might still experience an initial outage, and the pain associated with it, but future outages would hardly be felt. 

It turns out that mother nature has already created such a system: us. The human body is incredibly resilient and is built with redundancy. In the technology world, we have the opportunity to learn from the natural world and the paradigms it offers to help us solve problems.

For instance, in 1967 the total number of smallpox cases recorded in India was close to 84,000, accounting for nearly 65 percent of all cases in the world! Of these cases, more than 26,000 resulted in death. Five years later, in 1972, the World Health Organization launched a mass eradication campaign, which included broad availability of a vaccine and today, the scourge of smallpox has been eliminated.

A simple injection enables our immune system to protect against future bugs. So, why can’t our infrastructure do the same?

The human body has much to teach us about protection and resilience. The collar bone, for example, exists solely for the purpose of breaking. It absorbs shocks on impact so that the force of the impact is spread out to limit the damage. As humans, we also have built-in redundancy with two eyes, ears, lungs, kidneys and hands. When we are deprived of oxygen, the body starts to adjust immediately. When we confront an immediate danger like a car coming straight at us, we switch to using the sympathetic nervous system. Our eyes and ears send information to the amygdala, which is an area of the brain used for emotional processing, and our fight or flight mechanism kicks in. 

Today’s modern networks are just beginning to work in similar ways. We are on the cusp of being able to create a network that mirrors the human body’s capacity to find issues and heal them before the whole body succumbs. Soon, we will be able to build a resilient, organic network that can heal itself, a network that can be vaccinated from infection and infrastructure that can protect the most important applications for the most important people at the most important time. 

This is the promise of a software-defined approach or software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN). However, current infrastructure needs more to cross the event horizon and become a truly organic network.

Realizing the dream of a resilient, organic network requires a shot in the arm that goes beyond a single product or technology. It’s the combination of SD-WAN, cloud, built-in monitoring and artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities that will form the system capable of protecting itself from a viral onslaught.

If a serious problem is diagnosed, the combination of SD-WAN and automation will allow the operators to create a vaccine so that the network becomes immune to similar threats in the future. This is precisely what our bodies do every day.

One needs to look no further than the daily newspaper headlines to understand the need for a resilient network. Outages, security breaches and other events that disrupt business are newsmakers, and they can have significant impact on an organization’s reputation and bottom line.

Every outage causes the business to ask, “What are you going to do to the next time a problem like this occurs?” As managed service provider or an operations professional, wouldn’t it be great to be able to explain that a vaccine has been created, the organic network has been inoculated and future outages will be at most a minor bump if that? We are not too far away from that future.

Sean Kopelke is VP, Solutions Engineering, at Riverbed Technology, Asia Pacific & Japan 

Disclaimer: This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the contributing authors and not of IDG Media and its editor(s).