Networking and the Rise of Developers

It is hardly news at this point that “the developer is king” (especially if you work in Silicon Valley). This is particularly true for those of us who’ve worked for technology companies for a long time. However, a couple of things have changed in the last few years:

  1. You no longer need to be at a technology company to see the importance of developers — software development is a differentiator in all sorts of industries. Hence, developers (and developer productivity) are valued almost everywhere. Indeed, a recent New York Times article argues, without much hyperbole, that every company is to some extent now a tech company.
  2. New technologies (of which public clouds and containers are two salient examples) are enabling developers, and the business units they support, to sidestep the bottlenecks that have traditionally been imposed by IT departments. Open source software in particular is making it easy for developers to use any available tools that will make them more productive, without IT necessarily approving of or providing the tools.

At the same time that developers are becoming more empowered, application architectures are also changing. In modern microservice architectures, applications consist of many distributed components. To interconnect these components, developers need networking services.

From my perspective, this change in the landscape has interesting consequences on networking. Developers of modern applications need networking infrastructure — routers to interconnect different application components, load balancers, etc. IT managers are motivated to deliver the necessary networking services to their developers as efficiently as possible, so as not to stand in the way of the business. If they can’t be efficient, the business is likely to go around them — hence the rise of “shadow IT”. But IT managers are also expected to meet other business requirements beyond developer productivity, such as maintaining the security of corporate and customer data, ensuring compliance with relevant regulations, etc. This in turn places more requirements on the network infrastructure, such as the need for segmentation and firewalling. Thus, network infrastructure in this new developer-centric world needs to be easy to provision, while also providing IT managers the tools to ensure security and compliance.

Simultaneously Meeting Developer and IT Requirements

Network virtualization — the technology at the heart of VMware NSX — provides precisely this balance between ease of provisioning and inherently secure infrastructure. In my VMworld talk this year, I’ll be talking about how the rise of developers, and the need to meet both developer and IT requirements, is driving the evolution of network virtualization.

Network virtualization systems will increasingly be driven by developers invoking the API, rather than by an admin clicking on a GUI. There are a lot more developers than admins (if not, you’re doing it wrong) which means that the API needs to provide high throughput. The management plane that services API requests also needs to be highly available, since the developers depend on it to do their jobs.

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Developer workloads are also driving a focus on the control plane, which must accommodate the diversity of computing environments favored by developers, such as public clouds and container frameworks. Just as the Internet Protocol was invented to interconnect heterogeneous networks, network virtualization must adapt to heterogeneity in the endpoints. Whether developers want to deploy workloads in a container, in an on-premises VM, or on a public cloud, those workloads need networking and security services; network virtualization is evolving to deliver those services wherever the application runs. Several VMworld sessions (including Guido Appenzeller‘s and Tom Corn’s spotlight sessions) will address the extension of NSX to these environments, while I’ll discuss the architectural capabilities that allow us to support heterogeneous endpoints.

A central challenge addressed by NSX is the need to simultaneously meet the requirements of both developers and IT managers. IT needs to manage infrastructure to be highly available, secure, and compliant with business policies, all while being highly responsive to the evolving needs of developers. My aim at VMworld is to show how NSX can help IT managers meet these challenging demands now and in the future. I look forward to seeing many of our customers and helping them address these challenges at VMworld in Las Vegas and Barcelona.

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