The Rise of Intelligent Virtual Networks

Michael Vizard

For a long time, the prevailing wisdom of the day has been that IT organizations were better off with dumb pipes. After all, the applications should be doing all the management, and the only thing the network needed to do was provide the most optimal transport mechanism possible.

But with the advent of virtualization and the quest for more agility in enterprise computing as a whole, there is a decided shift toward intelligent networking starting to take shape. The two most recent examples of this shift come in the form of intelligent network architectures that have been put forward by Enterasys, a unit of Siemens, and Brocade.

Both companies have put forward network architectures that make it possible for the network to keep track of virtual machines as they move across the network. The ability to move virtual machines, and the application workloads they run, is seen as a key enabling technology that provides the flexibility that IT organizations are going to need in able to be more agile in their response to rapidly changing business requirements.

But as Brocade CTO Dave Stevens notes, the vendors that make virtual machine software pretty much refuse to cooperate with each other in any meaningful way. That means it's left up to the enterprise networking vendors to come up with technologies to automatically detect where a virtual machine is on the network; there is no technology coming out of the virtual machine community that could be used by a virtual machine to signal the network where it is at any given moment.

The enterprise networking community is working on a set of Edge Virtual Bridge standards to make all this virtual machine interoperability possible. In the meantime, vendors are moving ahead with their own offerings, which they all say will be made compatible with whatever virtual machine networking standard ultimately emerges.

As the future arbiters of virtual machine networking, and by extension the applications that run on them, enterprise networking vendors are going to see their strategic role in the enterprise greatly enhanced, most likely at the expense of the very companies making the virtual machine software.

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