Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Service Chaining is Business Process Orchestration in the Network

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The term "service chaining" hasn't quite yet made it into the mainstream IT vernacular. It's current viewed as a technical mechanism for directing packets ,flows or messages (depending on where you sit in the network stack) around the network. Service chaining is the answer to "how do orchestrate the flow of data across the great divide that exists between L2-3 and L4-7"? There are already multiple implementations, some that take advantage of virtual overlay protocols like VXLAN and NVGRE, others that use proprietary tags, and some that even operate at layer 7 and take advantage of HTTP's natural redirection capabilities to move data from one service to another.

What's important is not only the mechanism (a variety of IETF proposals already exist discussing this) but recognizing that what we're really trying to do is orchestrate a business process across application and network services.

The one thing SDN and NFV have been unable to do is break the belief that the network is just a pipe and the services hosted in the network are just packet pushing variations on a theme. To many, "network services" still means "a VLAN" or "QoS policies" or "bandwidth limitations". Even higher order stack services like load balancing and application acceleration are viewed not as services but as discrete network functions. This fails to recognize what a "service" is in the context of infrastructure and emerging technologies like SDN, cloud and NFV, which in turn keeps their relationship to business processes from becoming readily apparent.

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