In today’s instant information world, big achievements rarely go unnoticed. The latest sports champion, hot new product, or science discovery usually get plenty of immediate attention. However, sometimes great things happen in the background, quietly, without fanfare, without the world paying close attention. This doesn’t mean that great things aren’t the result of great ideas and hard work. But often, at the center of a great momentous event is the culmination of a good idea proven-out “where the rubber meets the road” so to speak, in the hands of a customer, solving that customer’s most challenging problems.
This past Summer, I had an enlightening experience when talking with one of our largest customers. (I’ll tell you about in more detail a little later in this blog). In a nutshell, it was the moment I realized that this customer’s Plexxi deployment had just proven-out our vision, our technology, our value to customers, our future plans, and our trajectory as a company. I was listening to our customer validate what we’ve been telling folks about Plexxi HCN and its unique integration capabilities; capabilities that continue to resonate with our customers and translate directly into reduced complexity and lower capital and operating costs for them. It’s that simple.
Before I go on, I must point out that this one event triggered a series of events that enabled Plexxi to close several major customers, raise additional capital, and position Plexxi for major revenue growth in 2017.
Our customers realize that the network is a key ingredient in today’s recipe for scale-out applications and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), but they have also been disappointed by the industry’s lack of focus in this area. Customers recognize that traditional networking solutions are fraught with complexity and cost, and that they need a networking solution that is “aware” of their application and hosting infrastructure, and as a result is automated and under software control. This “awareness,” achieved through tight integration with the Plexxi HCN, is that unheralded breakthrough in hyperconverged networking that changes the game for HCI and the data center cloud forever.
As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, Plexxi is all about building “Simply a better network” for today’s next-generation applications and data center cloud infrastructure. A primary focus for us has been on Plexxi HCN as the hyperconverged network for the modern hyperconverged infrastructure. And our customers are thrilled with our approach, because it simply works and saves them money!
What we’ve learned by listening to our customers’ challenges is that a hyperconverged network (HCN) should have the following 4 key attributes that are essential to supporting HCI, and reducing cost and complexity:
1. First, HCN should be built upon a very dynamic, diverse, low-latency, network fabric that scales-out, just like today’s HCI solutions. It should be easy for customers to control the fabric through software to ensure security and meet the bandwidth and latency requirements of applications, all without disrupting normal operations and without re-cabling.
2. The HCN should be controlled by software. It should employ a software controller that has a global and distributed view of the network. With HCN, customers manage the network as a single entity, as opposed to managing individual devices and ports.
3. HCN should offer broad scale, from single-rack deployments, to multi-rack deployments, to 10s-of-thousands of servers. This offers enormous headroom for growth and scale. And, because it is software-defined, it can be delivered on custom switches or “whitebox” switches.
4. The HCN should facilitate tight integration with the application, providing the workflow logic, programmatic APIs, and app-specific connections. This integration is paramount in being able to automate network functions in the context of the application. (In Plexxi, we call this the Connect layer of our software stack, and our pre-built application integration packs provide deep integration with specific applications.)
Plexxi HCN delivers on all of these attributes of hyperconverged networking to make Plexxi’s HCN aware of the application, its behavior, and its requirements on the network. This past Summer, we began proving-out at scale this approach with several customers, all with different use cases, applications and performance requirements. The specifics are important, so here are the key customer observations that we heard.
- Plexxi HCN became aware of our 40,000 VM, VMware environment, and it immediately knew: which nodes are in which cluster, which VMs are on which VLANs, which nodes are the initiators and targets of storage traffic, and which storage traffic is metadata and which is application data. All this application knowledge was harvested by Plexxi Connect software, and the net result is a network that is configured dynamically, based on the requirements of the application.
- Plexxi’s awareness, automation, and ease-of-use obviates the need for us to hire specialized personnel to manage the network. For example, our VM administrator provisioned the VMs and underlying VLANs, and the network automatically provisioned. No trouble ticket or phone call to the network administrator. No delays.
- Plexxi’s network bandwidth and latency characteristics can adjust dynamically to changing application requirements. As a result, we no longer need to deal with complex networking protocols or re-cabling the network topology as the environment scales.
- Plexxi automatically discovered our underlying storage infrastructure and isolated the storage traffic from other workloads in the network to restrict workload interference and preserve workload performance and security.
- Plexxi Integration Packs drove application information into the Plexxi network to facilitate automation, but also propagated the information up the Plexxi software stack to our management console, which is vCenter. Plexxi automatically discovered the underlying network devices, created and mapped VLANs to the VMs and populated vCenter, creating a self-documenting network.
- When we needed additional network resources, we simply added another Plexxi switch, which was auto-discovered by Plexxi Control, and the entire network was automatically “refitted” to integrate the new switch into the Plexxi fabric.
- When we set out to do our POC with Plexxi, we requested six Plexxi switches, which we promptly received. We soon realized, however, that we really only needed four switches. Plexxi is a flat network, where all switches are directly connected, and therefore doesn’t require a spine switch layer for inter-switch connectivity.
So you see, the experience of our customers with Plexxi HCN is all about integration, automation, simplicity, and scale. Our customers have proven that Plexxi HCN is a network that is aware of its environment and the applications that run in it. It is this awareness that is key to Plexxi’s dynamic fabric and ability to self-manage.
And this is where my illuminating experience comes in. In my years as a tech exec, entrepreneur, and investor, I’ve had my share of “enlightening” moments. Like when you have that great product idea, or launch a major new product at a F100 company, or see that a startup in which you’ve invested taking off, because “they get it.” But, last Summer, I had the experience of listening to one of my customers play back to me the value of my product in his rather large and complex environment. As I listened to him I thought, “Hey, we got it right, our network is aware…” Not because we say so, but because our customers who are using our product are saying so. My customer was certainly convinced, and now so was I. Aha!
Keep an eye on us, this is a big year for Plexxi.