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VMware DRS for networks: A new piece of the SDN puzzle

VMware will preview Network DRS at VMworld, but its core customers are still wrapping their heads around software-defined networking.

VMware is working on a networking version of its Distributed Resource Scheduler load-balancing feature as part of its software-defined data center strategy.

Automated, virtualized network load balancing is an important component of the software-defined data center -- an extension of the software-defined network (SDN) that VMware Inc. envisions and will promote heavily at its VMworld 2013 conference next week.

Networking has always been a difficult technology to comprehend.

Tony Thompson,
vice president of marketing, Silver Peak

But that vision, especially the automation and networking aspects, is a ways off from reality for many IT departments, VMware users and consultants said.

"SDN seems kind of pie-in-the-sky, but the software-defined data center, that's different," said Ryan Burgess, an infrastructure architect at North Shore Credit Union in Vancouver. "I don't see the value in focusing on a specific fabric."

The beginnings of Network DRS will be discussed during a VMworld session titled, DRS: New Features, Best Practices and Future Directions, according to the session description. The original Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS), which balances virtual machine loads on physical servers, debuted in 2008. VMware DRS for storage shipped with vSphere 5 in 2011.

Is networking lost on VMware customers?

VMware's software-defined data center strategy is an attempt to move beyond the hypervisor market, which became commoditized as Microsoft Hyper-V and other competitors achieved relative feature parity with VMware's ESXi. The goal is to abstract all data center resources -- not only compute, but storage and networking, as well -- from their underlying hardware to enable more automation and efficiency.

SDN has been a focal point, thanks in part to VMware's acquisition of Nicira last year and the subsequent development of the NSX network virtualization platform.

The SDN messaging doesn't always resonate with VMware's server virtualization users, however. Other data center realities may also hinder the adoption of SDN and Network DRS.

The vast majority of VMware customers don't take advantage of existing automation technologies, and many large network infrastructures are too complicated to automate, said Keith Norbie, a practice director at Technology Integration Group, a national IT solutions provider.

And unlike storage, which has become significantly intertwined with virtualization over the years, networking remains a separate beast. Vendors will need to close the gap between virtualization and networking teams for their products to succeed, said Tony Thompson, vice president of marketing at Silver Peak, a WAN optimization software manufacturer.

"The virtualization folks are going to want to move fast and deploy services," he said. "As much as vendors can simplify that experience for the virtualization administrator, the better off it's going to be. Networking has always been a difficult technology to comprehend for a lot of folks."

Much of the talk around the software-defined data center has been heavy on promise and short on specifics. To energize VMworld attendees, VMware must provide details on how to make it a reality in their organizations.

"I expect VMware to be coming out of the subdued haze we're in," Norbie said. "You'll start to see part of the resurgence of VMware. … You'll start to see some of the execution points of how this technology grows up."

VMware will also offer tech previews of other new features, including Fault Tolerance for multiprocessor virtual machines and advancements in vMotion across multiple sites, at VMworld. A company spokesperson declined to comment on any VMworld tech previews.

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