Virtualization and the Network

Arthur Cole

Virtualization has been good for enterprise networking. Or has it?

In truth, the answer lies in your perspective.

On the one hand, virtualization's impact on the network has been very positive if you happen to be a networking equipment vendor. As IDC reported recently, Ethernet switching revenues shot up 32.7 percent in the second quarter, driven primarily by the 10 GbE devices needed to handle all that traffic generated by burgeoning virtual environments. Router action jumped by about 11 percent for the same period.

For the enterprise, though, this merely means that a good part of your hardware budget that was once devoted to buying more servers and storage is going to network hardware instead. Dollar-for-dollar, you're probably still coming out ahead, and yet this need for additional networking is putting quite a drag on virtualization deployments themselves. As InformationWeek found out in its latest IT survey, the portion of enterprises targeting less than a quarter of their infrastructure for virtualization has jumped to 35 percent, compared with only 22 percent last year. Networking concerns are probably not the sole reason for this pull-back, but it certainly is one of the driving factors.

Clearly, some form of network consolidation is in order. And while there's no shortage of fabric technologies from HP, Cisco, Brocade and others, could there be a way to gain the same flexibility without the forklift upgrade required to institute an entirely new networking platform? Extreme Networks says it has one with its Direct Attached architecture. The system combines the Summit X650 top-of-the-rack switch with Exar's X3100 10 GbE NIC to move virtual switching out of the server and onto the network. The result is elimination of an entire virtual switching tier and consolidation of individual network devices, mainly 10 GbE switches, and simplified management of the entire ecosystem under the ExtremeXOS operating system.

Consolidated or not, the need for network visibility will be paramount as virtual technology expands. Arista Networks is hoping to get a leg up in VMware installations with the VM Tracer, a new tool for the 7000 switch that links network management to the virtual platform. The system opens virtual LANs (VLANs) as new virtual machines are created. These VLANs can then be monitored and managed through the vSphere vNetwork with tools like VM auto-discovery, adaptive segmentation, host view, ESX port profiling and multi-tenancy. The system functions across virtual and cloud environments.

The more that enterprises become accustomed to shifting workloads across physical resources and the general fluid nature of data in virtual environments, the more attention will shift from server and storage resources to the network. That's only to be expected considering virtualization itself provides such tremendous scalability in processing and capacity that the old fear of running out of storage space or lacking processing power is largely eliminated.

Nowadays, the speed at which you can make data available to those who need it will define success or failure in IT. And that means more focus on the network to make that happen.

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