Virtualization Management at Interop; new focus for network managers

Amy Kucharik

The addition this year of a Virtualization Management track at Interop signals the growing pervasiveness of virtual technologies in the data center. Since managing virtual environments can create new challenges for network managers, SearchNetworking caught up with Virtualization/Virtualization Management Track Chairs Barb Goldworm and Anne Skamarock of FOCUS to find out what virtualization management means for network managers today.

How does network management change in a virtualized environment?

Barb Goldworm and Anne Skamarock: Network management tools are still able to provide management of the physical components within the environment. However, to manage any of the virtual components and even to see into the OS or application, these tools need to be virtualization-aware, i.e., interact with the virtual layer to gain access to the virtual components. Many network management companies have become, or at least started to become, virtualization-aware. Furthermore, application management, including performance tools and root cause analysis tools, must likewise now understand the concepts of the virtual layers as well. 

How has virtualization changed how the network admin/manager interacts with the virtual, rather than entirely physical, environment?

Goldworm and Skamarock: The biggest change is the moving of the boundaries of the "machine" from a physical boundary to a software

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boundary within the physical host. This means that multiple virtual NICs and virtual switches are created within the physical host. The same with storage access points. It becomes quite obvious that the virtual environment requires the input and collaboration of multiple administrative areas including application admins, systems/virt admins, network admins and storage admins to make the environment work well.

The network and security policies must reach into the physical host to manage the virtual NICs and virtual switches, and address the change to other security services such as firewalls, IDS and IPS. In addition, when a physical NIC is shared between virtual machines, all the data can be seen at that physical NIC. This violates some policies/regulations. To resolve this, VLANs must be implemented for LAN traffic segregation with the physical server for each of the VMs, and NPIV performs the same function for Fibre Channel HBAs. 

We have heard from many IT pros who have not yet implemented virtual environments in their companies. What would you say is the adoption rate of virtual technology for the average enterprise?

Goldworm and Skamarock: Our most recent FOCUS Research, FOCUS Research Series: Managing the Virtual Environment, shows that 91% of large enterprises, 83% of medium-sized companies and 63% of small companies have implemented server virtualization to some degree, somewhere within their organizations. What do network pros need to know about this technology?

While virtualization may not yet be in production throughout the organization, it is very important for network professionals, at a minimum, to understand the impact and challenges of adding a virtualization layer into the environment and to understand the new components involved with the virtual infrastructure. These challenges will be different, depending on which virtualization solution is utilized. Also, a cross-functional team is required to implement virtualization in the best possible way because the virtual environment virtualizes networking and storage components as well as server components.

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What is the current state of IT process automation as it pertains to virtualization?

Goldworm and Skamarock: Virtualization management is really just now coming into its own, maturing in areas such as automation and optimization. Products are emerging constantly from a whole new ecosystem focused on managing the virtual infrastructure, with offerings from the hypervisor vendors, the enterprise management players, the systems and storage vendors, and a new group of emerging startups focused on specific virtualization management issues. As of today, there are hundreds of companies playing in the space, with a short list of some very interesting products to help with both automation and optimization. 

Virtualization products such as VMware have some built-in management capabilities. Are these capabilities enough or should network managers rely on outside management tools to get control of the virtual environment?

VMware has done a very good job of creating management tools and APIs for the virtual environment, and they are a good start. One problem for network managers is that they have to learn new tools for managing within VMware. This means they may not be able to use the same tool to manage both the virtual and physical infrastructure, which isn't ideal.

However, because VMware has done a good job with APIs and collaborating with vendors, many network management vendors have integrated (or are in the process of integrating) with VMware to gain visibility and management control of the virtual components. VMware is also doing interesting work with Cisco to create a new specification for virtual switches that will allow them to be managed in the same way as physical switches. In addition, there are new vendors creating innovative management solutions to offer new cross-domain capabilities to address these challenges. 

For network pros attending Interop, what should be the top takeaway(s) concerning virtualization management?

Goldworm and Skamarock: Networking pros need to understand the challenges of gaining visibility into the virtual infrastructure. There are numerous sessions at Interop to educate them on the different virtualization management requirements and tools available. They should also find out whether the management tools their company uses are virtualization-aware and, if not, educate themselves about the solutions available today [and talk with their vendors], and get on a cross-functional team implementing virtualization to keep informed about where IT is going with virtualization.

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