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Minecraft paves the way to grow enterprise SDN, seriously

Insight from the Minecraft video game points to how enterprise SDN adoption could grow faster with a single interface for monitoring, confirmation and troubleshooting.

So, my kid is into Minecraft now, and since she's six, that means I'm into Minecraft now. And if I'm into Minecraft, that means I'm compelled to hack it.

Using Forge to expose event hooks, I built a stupid-simple poller that bangs on my network monitoring system via REST and JSON. Now, while my daughter and I build houses together in-game, I can keep my eye on my core router's CPU utilization with a variable-width lava flow. Because, geek.

The more time I spend with the game mechanics, the more I think about non-traditional system control, especially in the Age of DevOps.

The line between configuration and programming is quickly disappearing, especially with software-defined networking and software-defined storage. One minute you're establishing the minimum access requirements for an application, and the next you're dealing with a failed security audit or, worse, an active intrusion.

To accelerate enterprise SDN adoption, we'll need a level of integration never previously achieved by IT tools.

In Minecraft, these are not three separate consoles. Monitoring (situational awareness), configuration (building) and troubleshooting (survival) co-exist simultaneously in the same interface. So, to accelerate enterprise SDN adoption, we'll need a level of integration never previously achieved by IT tools.

String + Redstone = Firewall block

As administrators, we spend the vast majority of our time building and monitoring our networks. Take class‑based quality of service (QoS), for example. In the morning, you might have an inspiration for a traffic policy you're certain will harmonize jitter and drop intolerant HD TelePresence with best effort HTTP traffic. You happily craft a policy map of peerless perfection and apply it to your routers. You stand back, watching your traffic reports for glory, and … it's only marginally improved.

What happens next is DevOps. In three different windows, you watch real-time traffic changes on your network, update your class-based QoS policy, and lastly, you Google "class rule spell examples." Lather. Rinse. Alt-Tab. Repeat. Eventually, it works as envisioned, but if you compare the resulting policy with your clean-sheet design, they're unlikely to be similar. Effectiveness came not from perfect packet precognition, but from iterative development with live feedback. Compare those three disparate windows with the Minecraft UI, where awareness, change management and troubleshooting are seamlessly integrated.

I don't believe we'll be Lawnmower Men, flying through virtual network worlds wearing Oculus Rifts while fighting motion sickness with a vNose. But by the same token, today's advanced persistent threats are effectively security monster spawners. The days of assuring threats will always enter from the outside are long gone, and we should accept that creepers are constantly popping out of the ether inside our defenses. They're mobile and some will kill your network if the wrong person looks at (or clicks on) them.

But what we are enabling with enterprise SDN is an environment where we can hear a threat approaching from behind while we're heads-down, chipping away at a service delivery issue. If we can spin around and dispatch them reflexively with the same pickaxe we're using to configure permissions on a VM, then we can quickly return to the task at hand.

An SDN gun that draws configs, right?

Minecraft's real appeal to my demographic (OK, just me) may be that for all practical purposes, it's a giant gun that shoots virtual 2x2 LEGOs considerably faster than fingers can locate, align and place physical parts. With software-defined everything, we're building a ubiquitous activation framework that any controller application can use to expose hardware to efficient game mechanics. Think of it, an SDN gun that draws configs from appropriate pallets, shoots them and then intelligently aligns them into the environment. Who wouldn't want that? Other than Endermen, of course.

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This was last published in April 2015

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