Virtualization Breaks Networking, Server, and Storage Silos

Virtualization breaks networking, server, storage silosThis year, 2011, has been an incredible year of technology innovation and change, and 2012 promises to be even more exciting as the dynamics of networking, server, and storage technology further evolve and become interconnected. During the next few weeks, I’ll outline some of my expectations of change and disruption for the coming year and beyond.

At the heart of this change is “virtualization”. Virtualization is obviously a big thing right now. Many networking functions like WAN optimization, load balancing and security that previously required specialized hardware are now available as virtual appliances than can run as virtual machines (VMs) on standard server hardware. At Silver Peak, we are seeing virtualization driving significant changes in our business. Virtual appliances are enabling easier proof-of-concepts (PoCs) for product trials, and being used in a growing proportion of production deployments.

However, despite the promises of simplicity and cost-saving, virtualization presents challenges from an IT organizational point-of-view. People in networking want to deploy virtual appliances and run them on VM infrastructure using standard servers. However many corporations are setup with groups or silos that manage servers, networking equipment, security, and storage separately.  This can make it challenging for a networking professional to implement networking functions in virtual appliances, since he has no control over the physical server infrastructure on which the VMs run.

The good news is that leading-edge organizations are adapting rapidly and changing the way they do things. They are breaking-down these organizational silos to reap the benefits of virtualization in networking by rethinking roles and processes. But fixing the problem “organizationally” can be tough depending on the size and culture of the business.

With this approach, the physical hardware hosting the VMs remains with the networking organization. The benefits of consolidation and flexible deployment can be achieved, albeit within a smaller scope, without major organization changes.  It is a highly-effective “short cut,” and we are seeing a growing number of customers doing this today. Fortunately, there is another approach which requires less organizational change. Instead of taking networking appliances to the virtual infrastructure (run by a different silo), you can bring virtualization technology to the existing networking equipment. Rather than deploying VMs on generic servers, people in the networking group are now running hypervisors and deploying virtual appliances on blades within their existing network equipment. This can include blades in Avaya routers, Cisco routers, or HP switches, just to name a few.

From the networking vendor perspective, the lines are blurring across the board, where the router and switch vendors are rolling out more and more embedded server products into their networking products. They are going from one embedded server to multiple embedded servers, making it a networking and server best-practice.

Over the next year, I suspect we will see much more virtual appliance deployments by the networking teams. So either the networking people will need to figure out how to work with the server people, or they will need to implement embedded servers to continue owning the hardware their services will ultimately run on.  Either way, it is becoming imperative for people in the networking field to be trained on and comfortable with virtualization technology.