Virtualization is a mainstream part of the enterprise data center strategy, playing a role in nearly every conversation about server hardware or operating systems. Now VMware and Microsoft are no longer content with owning just the server workloads. They want to own the management stacks of both the servers and the network with strategies dubbed "the cloud data center" and "the software-defined data center." Yet network professionals don't see virtualization as their responsibility and they generally resist taking on network virtualization technology. That's a losing battle.
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Virtualized networking reminds me of Ethernet toward the end of life of Token Ring. (I’ve been around networking long enough to remember the debate around 16 Mbps versus 100 Mbps Ethernet.) Since most implementations leveraged hubs vs. switches, the performance between the two were comparable. But Ethernet, of course, continued to evolve, and there is no debate in which technology won the showdown. Yet there was a tough transition for many engineers. After all, once you commit to a losing technology, it is expensive and difficult to move an environment and organizational skill set to the new technology -- especially before it becomes totally mainstream.
We're at that point now with network virtualization. We are so invested in traditional hardware and architectures, but the reality is that the benefits of virtualized network devices, such as Cisco's Nexus 1000v and VMware's vSphere Distributed Switch, are similar to the benefits of virtualized x86 hardware. There are potential savings around cable plant, power and hardware-related administrative costs. There's also the high level of integration with virtualized x86 environments that allow for seamless movement of virtual machines (VMs) not just across servers, but across virtual switches as well.
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Yet I’m challenged to see network professionals rushing to get on the virtualized switch bandwagon. When I talk with my peers in other IT organizations, I’ve found that the server hardware teams are driving the adoption and integration of virtual switches rather than network teams. I get the impression that this is due to indifference from the network staff. I sense a resistance to change similar to the old Token Ring shops that dismissed Ethernet as the far away future of connectivity.
The bottom line is that it's just a matter of time before virtualization does to networking what it has done to server technology. The question is: How do you stay ahead of the game and not get left behind?