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The Benefits of Network Virtualization

Just before this year’s Interop at the beginning of May, I got a chance to talk with Martin Casado, Chief Architect, Networking for VMware. Martin was preparing to participate in a keynote panel where he and representatives from Microsoft and Broadcom were discussing the future trends in networking. While it's clear that on most issues Microsoft and VMware have widely different views one issue they both agree on is the growing importance of network virtualization. Both companies have recently come out with new network virtualization technologies that will move companies closer to the software defined datacenter.

Related: Network Virtualization

Martin explained that network virtualization picks up the next layer of application support beyond server virtualization. Server virtualization and virtual machines created fundamental abstraction of servers from the underlying hardware. Through server virtualization software, application servers are encapsulated into virtual machines allowing them to have a greater return on investment (ROI) by providing increased flexibility, higher availability, reduced management requirements, and much faster deployment. Network virtualization promises to bring many of these same advantages to the organizations networking infrastructure.

Today, network provisioning is primarily a manual effort requiring human intervention using a keyboard and command line interface (CLI).  This manual network configuration must be carefully repeated across numerous different network devices. This process is time consuming and potentially error prone which makes networking relatively inflexible. The end result is lengthy application deployment times when one of your applications requires fundamental networking changes.

Related: Integrating Hyper-V and vSphere Management

Martin pointed out that network virtualization abstracts the networking configuration from the underlying network hardware in exactly the same way that server virtualization abstracts a virtual machine from the underlying physical server. Network virtualization allows the logical network to be defined using software and policies. This software layer is largely decoupled from the underlying physical network and can be run over any general purpose network hardware that provides IP connectivity. Network virtualization increases flexibility and automates network configuration. The net result is faster and more reliable application deployment with less manual intervention. Network virtualization also enables your network to extend beyond your on premise locations into the public cloud even though the underlying physical IP subnets may be different. Network virtualization insulates the virtual machine and application’s logical network from the underlying physical network allowing the applications to function across different subnets.

While VMware and Microsoft have decidedly different visions for the datacenter, one thing they both agree on is that network virtualization is the next step in the evolution of the datacenter.

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