Flowing with the New IP

Authored by Bill Beckett, Saisei Founder and Chief Strategy Officer

stockvault-water-drops118150When we look at what New IP means, at its bare essentials, personally I think about flows. But flows have meant different things to different people and my own thinking about flows has changed over time as well.

The flow that fits into the New IP is the discrete IP session(s) you create when you go to a website, stream a movie, start a file download, have a Skype call, do Facetime chat or exchange routing information, etc. The path flows travel today is mind-boggling.

Telling a story
For example, flows are literally flowing out of our laptops (no pun intended), into switches, though routers, past firewalls, into access gear, converted from digital to analog and back to digital, passed onto edge routers, into core routers, through Internet exchanges and into data centers, load balancers, more switches and end on a server or another laptop somewhere.

Honestly, that’s probably a gross underestimate of devices a single flow goes through in its life. An end-to-end flow might traverse somewhere between three and maybe 300 different network elements or devices. A flow might last three milliseconds, three seconds, 30 seconds, three hours or three weeks.

Every flow tells a story and they can say so much: who started it; where is it going; what application is it; how long has it lasted; how much data has it sent; how fast or slow is it; how well or how badly was it subjected to network congestion or errors. Flows also raise questions such as: Is it from hosts we’ve seen before? Is it from unknown sources? Is it malicious?

Imagine looking at any network equipment you can think of and driving value from what’s going through there. Well, imagining is what you’d have to do most of the time. Sure, most network equipment shows the bits in and out, packets in and out, maybe some physical layer errors, some neighbor information, but hardly anything more.

Finding the value
To me, the New IP is about being able to go look at any network device, virtual or physical, and ask, “Hey, who is using this right now? What applications are running? What isn’t working well?” This capability would mean that when a service provider gets a call from a customer (Bill) complaining about his service in New York, we can ask the network questions like, “Show me Bill and his email flows,” or issue commands to terminate all of Bill’s flows if necessary. The value of such a capability would be customer satisfaction and less churn.

Flows are key to the New IP, however, in the past, few devices have been flow-aware — some firewalls, load balancers and devices responsible for terminating or translating flows. The New IP is be about making nearly all network functions intelligent enough to understand information about the flows traversing them: the who, what, where, when and how information.

The New IP will enable unprecedented control, visibility and operational efficiency end-to-end based on a vast amount of information on flows. We will be able to guarantee a rate specifically down to an individual flow and diagnose network issues down to flows from specific users to help solve problems more rapidly than ever before.

More importantly, with the ability to process, track and guarantee services down to the flow level, we will eliminate most of the complaints seen on networks. Being able to manage and control flows so granularly will just be something taken for granted and rarely required to be visible as it prevents issues from arising in the first place, literally by leaving no flow behind.