Kicking The Tires Of The Network Virtualization Bandwagon

TiresNetwork virtualization, especially anything having to do with software-defined networking, was all the rage in 2012, with the pundits predicting massive adoption –  soon. Vendors big and small (Cisco and Silver Peak), old and new (VMware and Midokura) have been quick to jump on the bandwagon and offer solutions, from hybrid architectures to virtual appliances.

However, while virtualized offerings will capture a larger slice of a growing network pie — much like what has happened in the server market (the proportion of enterprise server workloads on virtual machines passed the 50% mark in 2011) — so too will physical solutions continue to play an essential role. What network professionals must grapple with in 2013 and beyond is what virtualization will mean to them, when, and what to do about it.

Like any new technology, SDNs have a relatively steep learning curve, and there are significant barriers to adoption, including immature standards, lack of interoperability, lack of tools, need for training, and legacy migration, according to GigaOM. The research company expects SDN, which should take three to five years to mature, to be implemented in an evolutionary fashion in mainstream IT organizations.

“The notion that a technology with such a big architectural difference from the status quo could have rapid uptake is as ridiculous as thinking that Mark Sanchez might actually make a good QB one day”, notes network analyst Zeus Kerravala in a recent column in NetworkWorld. “I predict that 2013 will be the year of SDN research, and we’ll start to see some best practices developed and some case studies created.”

To start you off on your network virtualization research, here are six questions you need to ask about your SDN readiness, according to analyst Mark Leary:

1. How consistent is your networking software environment? And how solid are your software support practices?
2. Do you have the right hardware platforms in place to support a low-impact, incremental SDN rollout?
3. Are they ready to be upgraded to SDN-enabled control software?
4. Are you comfortable with your level of visibility and control across your network?
5. Are your networking and computing environments linked technically, organizationally, practically…?
6. Are you committed to a single vendor or multi-vendor networking environment? Is it time to re-evaulate? Or is it time to re-commit?

The bottom line is that network virtualization and SDN are already gathering momentum and network professionals need to figure out sooner rather than later their implications for their organizations. Unlike too many vendor vaporware promises, it’s not a question of if, but when.

Image credit: Milestoned (flickr)