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 | Nov 14, 2016

Unveiling the Forward Platform

Networks today are integral to many if not all aspects of our lives. A multitude of data packets whizz by on wired or wireless networks enabling us to carry out both our personal and business lives in the digital world. It is therefore easy to understand the chaos that is caused when these networks become disrupted in any way.

Networks today are integral to many if not all aspects of our lives. A multitude of data packets whizz by on wired or wireless networks enabling us to carry out both our personal and business lives in the digital world. It is therefore easy to understand the chaos that is caused when these networks become disrupted in any way. For you and me, a temporary loss of network connectivity may mean a slight downtime in our daily agenda, but for businesses, every second that goes by when the network is down means not only a loss in productivity but also a substantial hit to company revenue. A recent study showed that network outages in an average North American mid-to-large company cost one million dollars, and the total cost is a whopping $700 billion annually!

Today, I am excited to share with you what the team at Forward Networks has been working on as an answer to the problem that the networking industry has been facing since its inception. Our game changing Network Assurance platform attacks the issue head on, and delivers a solution that will make surprise network outages a thing of the past.

Throughout my career, when interacting with customers, the recurring theme that I heard was how difficult it is to operate networks at scale, and to keep them current in terms of policy, configuration, and inventory. Irrespective of how many network operation personnel were on staff or how many tools were at the operators’ disposal, keeping the network up and running was always a herculean task. The reason for this is rooted mainly in the diversity, scale and brittleness of today’s networks. This is also why no vendor (software or hardware) to date has successfully delivered a solution eliminating these challenges. David, CEO and Co-founder of Forward Networks, eloquently describes the problem statement as, “the network can be one mistaken change away from a major business impacting outage”.

Our Network Assurance platform fills the void in the market and finally provides solutions, also allowing for seamless delivery of enhanced platform functionality in the future. Here’s a deep dive into the platform.

At the core of the Forward Platform sits a mathematical model that computes an accurate representation of the current and all possible behaviors of your network. We are able to do this after collecting configurations and state from all devices on your network. This formal verification method sets us far apart (and beyond) from what any other existing change management, network security management, network simulation and network application monitoring tools provide. Once we have a network modeled, our ability to search, analyze, control and predict transforms the way network operations teams manage their networks.

Here are the key capabilities of the Forward Platform:

Forward Search

is a “Google-like” search capability of the modeled network that provides instant access to the whole end-to-end network behavior and topology. As an example, let’s imagine a network operator wants to verify if there is connectivity between two hosts for a given application (HTTP traffic in the example depicted in Figure 1). Upon issuing a very simple and intuitive query, the Forward Platform offers instant access to all the possible paths between the hosts for the desired application. The Platform also displays the critical data quickly and efficiently. Along the path, Forward Search highlights the forwarding behavior (L2 information, next hop, IP addresses, etc.) at each node, thereby making it really easy to debug complex environments with a handful of keystrokes and within seconds. Remember the pain of logging into each individual device, identifying the right configuration lines and trying to understand the lengthy and intricate forwarding tables? With Forward Search, this pain is no longer there.

Forward Verify

complements Forward Search by providing the capability to ensure the correctness of network policies and security posture. It allows network operators to rapidly identify any policy violations or unexpected behavior. Forward Verify brings the traditional unit testing paradigm of software development to networking, by continuously verifying that the network, as currently configured and behaving, does not diverge from your connectivity and/or security policies. This is critical for the ongoing health of the network because one of the most common reasons for network downtime is accidental misconfiguration hand-coded by a network operator.. In the Forward Platform, policies are defined as checks that can be customized by end users or pre-defined within the platform (as illustrated in Figure 2).

Forward Predict

allows network operators to test “what-if” scenarios in sandbox environments. These scenarios can involve connectivity, protocols or security policy changes before they get implemented in a live network. This revolutionary capability is light-years ahead when compared to how network changes are tested today. Once a change is identified, the Forward Platform can instantaneously “test” it in a mathematically and behaviorally accurate software copy of the network, to make sure policies are kept in compliance. Figure 3 shows the status of the policy checks before and after simulating the changes.

Together Forward Search, Verify, and Predict will allow network teams to finally operate at a level that gives them speed, control and accuracy they’ve always dreamed of. If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve also put together a data sheet that provides more in-depth details on our platform.

As you may imagine, we’re really excited to finally bring this capability to market. And we’re not done yet! Stay tuned for more to come soon. Follow us on social media or drop us a line to see how we can help network downtime a thing of the past for your network.

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Brandon Heller

Brandon Heller is a co-founder of and CTO at Forward Networks. Brandon holds a Ph.D from Stanford University in Computer Science.

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