Programming the network: And you thought apps were only for smartphones
Pictured above: Ciena's Anup Changaroth (far left), Willie Low (far right) and Rick Dodd (next to Willie) along with Team SP Avengers as they accept their award as winners of Ciena's ONIC Coding Competition.
Apps have become essential to our daily lives. We use them to manage our social life, get breaking news, hail a ride, and even manage the thermostat in our homes. But apps are not just for smartphones. The networks that connect those smartphones have apps too through software applications and tools that can open up new network features and functions faster than ever before, or correlate different network data sources for a better and more complete visibility of services run on the network. New application programming technology makes building apps for the network as easy as building apps for the smartphone.
Data centers and the networks that connect them need apps too. Requirements for flexibility and programmability are increasing to accommodate new web-scale traffic demands. The latest technology breakthroughs that led to the creation of a new breed of data center interconnect (DCI) platforms also provide a new operational model for incorporating a high degree of programmability and open APIs -- bringing faster multi-platform/multi-vendor application development, easier integration with IT tools, and more efficient utilization of IT resources.
Data center operators may leverage this new model by developing their own software applications based on their specific needs. Cloud-based application development portals started to become available, unlocking the potential of open APIs to simplify integration activities and develop new tools. Developers and IT teams can now develop new applications without investing in IT infrastructure or stressing IT budgets and resources.
Much like a smartphone and its related application development environment, the application development portals can be used to design any application that leverages open APIs, such as apps for enhanced network visualization, fault event notification and capacity planning and trending, data center cluster management, or even detailed performance monitoring.
Network App Development – Innovation is Endless
These application development portals, such as Ciena’s Emulation Cloud, allow developers to innovate, experiment, and test new service models on virtual network resources, resulting in dramatically lower entry and exit expenses. The portals also enable network and data center operators to leverage external development resources to scale and accelerate the development of software applications, emulate specific network configurations, model what-if scenarios, and overlay different information sources to create intelligent software tools that can help streamline operations, as depicted in the figure below.
Development portals make programming easier and have inspired many companies, universities, research institutions and even high schools to host coding competitions. These competitions allow individuals and teams a unique experience to test their programming skills and app imagination.
Ciena’s Emulation Cloud App Coding Competition
To inspire college students to create new apps for the Data Center Interconnect network, Ciena held a coding competition, The Optical Networking Innovation Competition (ONIC), in conjunction with SignAREN and KISTI. SignAREN (Singapore Advanced Research and Education Network) is Singapore’s national research and education network. It is the sole provider of local and international networks dedicated to serving the research and education community in Singapore. KISTI is the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information, a multi-disciplinary research institute.
The objective of the competition was to sharpen participants’ knowledge about open software tools and interfaces that are reshaping the telecom industry. At the same time the competition encouraged students to explore and develop applications that leverage the rapid advancements of optical networking. The coding competition provided the opportunity to develop optical networking expertise and promote collaboration and interaction.
Participants were given one month to complete the same challenge. They spent the month of June competing to develop the most innovative application for Data Center Interconnect (DCI) use-cases. Competing teams developed applications for Ciena’s Waveserver stackable interconnect system using the Emulation Cloud, leveraging REST-APIs related to automation, advanced service visualization, proactive service management, and other functions.
Competitive programming is defined as a mind sport that takes place over the Internet where teams compete in programming according to provided specifications. The host of the competition outlines the problem and provides a set of programming tools for contestants to use to solve the challenge, all within a time limit. Contestants benefit from not only winning a prize, they learn how to solve and code hard problems and/or create new apps under intense time pressure. Participation also helps to grow their network, improve coding skills, build their resume and gives participants an interesting topic to discuss at a future job interview.
In addition to the worldwide program of coding competitions, President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign is an all-hands-on-deck approach to improving science, technology, engineering and math education, and providing experiences that will ready students for careers in STEM. Although it is a U.S. initiative, it has inspired Ciena to support programs in education and to actively seek other R&E institutions to partner with for future coding competitions.
After assessing all submissions based on level of innovation, potential for business use, and near- and long-term benefits, Ciena’s judging panel, which consisted of senior Ciena executives, named Singapore Polytechnic’s Team, “SP Avengers,” champions of ONIC 2016. The winning team impressed the judges with its innovative mobile network management and monitoring system that was capable of easing the tedious process of troubleshooting with convenient remote access and user-friendly visualization.
Congratulations to all the teams that participated in this first-of-its-kind event, specially organized for research and education institutions in the Asia-Pacific region. We hope that by exposing students to real-world software development, including coding work, apps for the network will become as numerous as apps for the smartphone.