As enterprises do more with server virtualization and cloud computing, leading networking vendors must improve their virtual network automation, management and security capabilities. Both Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks have acquired software companies in recent days that enhance their abilities to meet this challenge.
Cisco last week acquired LineSider Technologies, developer of OverDrive software, which integrates physical and virtual network provisioning and automates network configuration for supporting server virtualization. On Monday, Juniper announced plans to acquire Altor Networks, developer of firewall software designed for securing virtual machines. Juniper, which already owned a stake in Altor, had previously partnered with the company to integrate its own firewall products with Altor's product.
With these virtual network automation and security acquisitions, both Juniper and Cisco have incrementally improved customers' prospects for building networks that can deals with the dynamic nature of server virtualization.
"The networking side [of the IT industry] is waking up and realizing that they're probably a good three years behind what's happening on the server side with virtualization," said Andre Kindness, senior analyst with Forrester Research. "A lot of vendors talk about how their port policies can move with a VM [virtual machine], but the rest of the network in the data center is very static. If I move a VM from one server to another server that's completely on another switch, the port facing that server can automatically change, but the one that goes to a switch upstream has to be changed manually."
Dynamic data centers demand virtual network automation and security
When server virtualization initially gained popularity it promised to shave operational costs via hardware consolidation and higher server utilization. But the dynamic nature of virtual server networking left networking vendors scrambling to improve the network's ability to track VMs and automate how the network manages and secures them.
"Visibility was not a high priority when we were doing all this [initial server virtualization]," said David O’Berry, director of information technology systems and services at the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. " So what you're seeing now is a patchwork of vendors trying to solve the problem after it's already out there."
The Altor and LineSider acquisitions are indicators that that networking vendors have recognized that management software, particularly virtual network automation and security, is as key a component of a virtual server networking strategy as hardware..
"If you look at OpenStack, OpenFlow and Open vSwitch, the world is moving away from very appliance-oriented technologies -- even with switches and routers -- toward software on commoditized CPUs, Kindness said"
Virtual network automation a key issue for Cisco
Cisco's newly appointed CTO of cloud computing, Lew Tucker, said Cisco will be emphasizing network management and automation moving forward, and part of that effort will mean exploring ways to get itstraditional customer base of network engineers and administrators to start thinking of Cisco as more of a software company than just a hardware vendor. It will also mean getting these hardware-oriented engineers to begin thinking like software developers.
O'Berry said that networking vendors have long tried to solve problems in hardware, but networking hardware -- like servers and storage -- is commoditizing. Networking will differentiate in software, and a key avenue of attack is with managing and securing virtualization.
"All these things will be commodities. What will not be a commodity is the secure configuration and management of all that," O'Berry said.
Once it all shakes out, good network management software will enableenterprises to obtain service level agreements (SLAs) for their virtualized infrastructure and from their cloud computing providers, said O’Berry.
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