Networking virtualization may be a tough sell for admins

Christine Cignoli

SAN FRANCISCO -- Network virtualization has come to pass with VMware's NSX platform, the fruits of its 2012 Nicira acquisition. But server virtualization admins aren't quite ready to play nice with networking admins.

With NSX, server admins are quickly learning about the networking side of the data center. One of the most popular hands-on labs at VMworld 2013 here this week was the “VMware NSX Networking Virtualization Platform” – second only to “vSphere Performance Optimization” – and the NSX booth at the conference was a busy place.

“Networking is the most important thing we’ll talk about today,” said CEO Pat Gelsinger during his  keynote address here. He and Nicira founder and VMware CTO Martin Casado laid out the technology basics of NSX for attendees.

In VMware’s vision, data centers will add network and storage to their VMware virtualization stack as part of a complete software-defined data center. Casado explained that virtualized networks can be considered similar to clusters of virtual machine (VM)s placed into the networking domain.

IT pros' minds jump to the negative impacts this could have, such as network virtualization sprawl or competing network infrastructures.

“It’ll create chaos,” said Stacy Patten, director of networking at Pinnacle Business Systems, Inc., an IT services firm based in Edmond, Okla. “The biggest danger will be [admins] trying to enable it and not telling anyone.”

That speaks to the cultural challenge around moving networking to the virtualization layer. IT often operates in silos, and that includes both people and technology.

The cultural issues are what’s at stake, said Bob Plankers, virtualization and cloud architect at a major Mid­western university.

“If you’re in an organization where your network and storage teams and your virtualization and server folks don’t talk to each other, don’t make decisions together, you’re going to have a real problem with this stuff,” Plankers said.

Technological obstacles are something to consider, too, if organizations don’t have upgraded networks. The physical network needs to be a solid base on which to build, Patten said, before organizations can consider network virtualization.

“It’s a foundation thing,” he said.

NSX network virtualization benefits
VMware brought several enterprise executives on stage here to sell attendees on its network virtualization product. They touted NSX for its ease of use and as a way to eliminate latency issues from the network.

A more cohesive team, along with a more streamlined infrastructure, is something IT pros hope NSX will create.

“This is a great opportunity for getting rid of silos,” said Jason Daunt, who manages the engineering team at Press Ganey Associates, a health care industry advisory firm based in South Bend, Ind. “Right now, networking is on a separate appliance. Getting it off hardware and onto the virtualization stack will be great. It makes sense.”

Meanwhile, VMware may have thrown down the gauntlet with Cisco with its NSXplatform. Many IT shops run Cisco, which dominates the network hardware market, alongside their VMware virtualized servers.

Cisco was absent from the list of vendors that announced physical switch integration with NSX at VMworld. Other vendors are in play in the network virtualization space: for example, Juniper Networks, Inc. offers network virtualization on the control plane.

How that battle plays out remains to be seen.

“There will be those who adopt NSX, and those who build their own virtual switch and fight against it,” Patten said.

And there may be those who fight against organizational obstacles. “The gap is not a technological thing,” Plankers said. “It’s a people problem, it’s a process problem. Those are way harder to solve than the technology.”

View the next item in this Essential Guide: VMware splits vCloud Director into vCenter, vCloud Automation Center or view the full guide: VMworld 2013 conference coverage

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