Although a relative newcomer to virtualization compared to its server and storage brethren, virtualized networks – and their companion, software-defined networking (SDN) technology – are a no-brainer for any company that’s virtualizing other parts of its IT infrastructure. Once you move platforms to an internal cloud, you’ll want the underlying transport layer to deliver the same flexibility as the virtual resource. Storage, servers, desktops and software all benefit from a more flexible network.
CIOs get this. The IDG Enterprise 2014 Cloud Computing Study found that 61% of IT leaders are evaluating investments in emerging technologies such as software-defined networking and network virtualization. The other 39% are likely to follow quickly.
The basic allure is freedom. Network hardware is one of the last bastions of bundling in the computer industry. Network intelligence has traditionally been embedded in routers, switches and proprietary management tools, meaning that the companies that supplied your network equipment were embedded in your environment for a long time. That’s one reason network hardware makers have long enjoyed some of the best profit margins in the tech industry.
All that is now changing. Thanks to the emergence of open standards and the decoupling of the control and forwarding planes, virtualized networks can now be combined with SDN to make networks a seamless and configurable resource.
This approach has several major benefits. One is that over-provisioning is dramatically reduced because the SDN controller can dynamically allocate bandwidth according to need. In other words, you don’t have to buy bandwidth for the worst-case scenario anymore. When the engineering department needs to move a set of big CAD/CAM or video files across the country, it can get temporary bandwidth allocated to complete its task and then return capacity to the network when the transfer is completed. That saves time and improves productivity.
Virtualization also reduces costs and increases flexibility. Instead of buying expensive switches to get at the software, IT can choose low-cost “white box” alternatives from a variety of suppliers. Virtualized networks resist vendor lock-in, account control and overpricing. So adopt an industry-standard protocol like OpenFlow and declare your independence.
Virtualization is all about flexibility, and that’s why networks should be part of any bigger virtualization plan. Your resources are only as flexible as the transport layer that carries the data, and now we have the means to get the best of both worlds.