Building the backbone

Network operating systems have undergone notable changes over the last few years. NME examines the nature of these enhancements, and how they have transformed the way enterprise networks perform.

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By  Sean Robson Published  January 10, 2009

Network operating systems have undergone notable changes over the last few years. NME examines the nature of these enhancements, and how they have transformed the way enterprise networks perform.

Network operating systems (NOS) play an integral role in the day-to-day operations of the enterprise network. Over time their functionality and importance to the organisation has only increased and they are now responsible for applications and functions ranging from security and account administration, all the way through to print and file sharing.

"Our NOS offering has undergone an evolution. The TMOS platform is designed as a fundamental underlying architecture; a universal platform that is the foundation for all of our products. What has really changed is how it can be used. Customers can now run SSL, compression, web acceleration, our application firewall and everything else we offer to secure, deliver and speed up application traffic on one box," says Nigel Ashworth, technical director MEA at F5 Networks.

We will definitely be introducing a new NOS in the coming year, and at the moment the hot topic is virtualisation. I am definitely introducing it across a couple of my servers to do a sort of a test, and if we start reaping benefits then we will move ahead.

"One of the key things that happened when people were developing systems back in the early 1990s was that everybody went packet-based. What they didn't realize was that packet-based architecture doesn't have the intelligence to deal with multiple applications. So it lacked intelligence versus speed," he says.

"Though F5 initially took the packet-based approach, some years ago we started addressing the root problem. The result is the TMOS architecture, which was designed as a full proxy-based architecture right from the ground up," Ashworth adds.

Extreme Networks is another vendor that has focused on evolving the peripheral products surrounding its operating system as opposed to making whole scale changes.

"We have been in the market since 2003 with our modular operating system, the ExtremeXOS.  From a network operating aspect we offer nothing new but from a hardware point of view we just introduced two main switches," explains Majdi Babaa, technical manager MEA, Extreme Networks.

Juniper Networks believes that its JUNOS single source operating system is unique in that it offers one operating system, enhanced through one release train, and developed based on a single modular architecture.

"These differences allow us to provide carrier-class continuous systems availability, automated network operations, and the open innovation to quickly respond to rapid growth and change, while reducing complexity, cost, and risk. Deploying platforms that run JUNOS software creates an open network infrastructure that interoperates and integrates with existing solutions and systems," says Tarek Abbas, senior systems engineering manager enterprise, Juniper Networks.

Considering evolution

IT is by its very nature in a state of perpetual motion and change and NOS is not immune to this evolution. Over the past year a number of changes have occurred, not only in the technology, but also the application involved.

"We have added a lot more features and made significant enchancements to the operating system we offer over the past year, with specific efforts made in achieving resiliency through the network infrastructure, by ensuring that the operating system is modular, resilient and extendable with open source architecture," says Baaba.

"We are seeing many vendors in the network and communications industry trying to build on this concept of modular operating systems. It is crucial that when you deal with the components of this operating system, you don't deal with the entire operating system, but just with what we call modules or processes that you can manipulate, stop or start, and upgrade. Today, network infrastructure is not just about moving data, there are key applications in the data, for example voice and video, which can not afford downtime," continues Baaba.

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