Virtualize the network to achieve agility

If You Want Agility, Virtualize the Network

Virtualize the network to achieve agilityIn my last blog, I discussed how there is pressure on IT organizations to become increasingly agile and to move away from an organizational culture in which seemingly every project takes at least six to nine months to complete. Part of the stress that IT organizations are feeling comes from the fact that most businesses are under ever-increasing pressure to respond quickly to changes and opportunities in the marketplace. As a result, these businesses are expecting that their IT organizations will respond to their needs quickly enough to enable them to adapt to those changes and opportunities.

I could have written the preceding paragraph at any time over the last decade. That doesn’t mean that the argument made in the preceding paragraph isn’t valid. It also doesn’t mean that the current pressure on IT organizations for agility isn’t greater than it was even a couple of years ago  It is. It just means that this form of pressure is not fundamentally new.

What is fundamentally new is that given the advent and growing maturity of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings, a company’s business unit managers now have a choice. If they can’t get what they want in a timely and cost-effective manner from their internal IT organization, at least some business unit managers have the freedom to go directly to IaaS and SaaS providers and acquire what they need to get their jobs done. So, in addition to wanting to enable their company to be successful, IT organizations have another reason to become more agile: If they don’t, they risk becoming increasingly irrelevant.

The technology that has the greatest impact on increasing the agility of the IT organization is virtualization, of which server virtualization is the best example. While server virtualization is the most established form of virtualization, most IT organizations have also implemented storage virtualization. The component of IT that has been the slowest to virtualize is the network. If there was any doubt about the value of network virtualization, that doubt was erased over the last 10 days or so. Last week, VMware acquired Nicira, a start-up network virtualization vendor with little if any revenue, for just over $1.2 billion. This week, Oracle acquired Xsigo for an undisclosed sum.

A component of IT that has not been slow to virtualize is WAN optimization controllers (WOCs), as virtual WOCs (vWOCs) are currently available in the marketplace and have been deployed by a number of IT organizations.  In a future blog, I will discuss some of the technical and pricing issues associated with vWOCs.  However, sticking to the theme of this blog, I will focus the discussion on how vWOCs enable IT organizations to be more agile. As noted, server virtualization is quite popular. One of the potential advantages of server virtualization is the ability to move virtual machines (VMs) between physical servers. However, one of the challenges associated with migrating a VM between physical servers is replicating the VM’s networking environment in its new location.  However, unlike a hardware-based WOC, a vWOC can be easily migrated along with the VM.  This makes it easier for the IT organization to replicate the VM’s networking environment in its new location.

In addition, many IT organizations choose to implement a proof-of-concept (POC) trial prior to acquiring WOCs.  The purpose of these trials is to enable the IT organization to quantify the performance improvements provided by the WOCs and to understand related issues such as the manageability and transparency of the WOCs.  While it is possible to conduct a POC using a hardware-based WOC, it is easier to do so with a vWOC.  This follows in part because a vWOC can be downloaded in a matter of minutes, whereas it typically takes a few days to ship a hardware-based WOC.

The ease of downloading a vWOC has broader benefit than just supporting a POC.  For example, a couple of weeks ago I was talking with an IT organization that needs to support a large subsidiary in Brazil.  They commented on the fact that WAN links within Brazil tend to be both relatively low speed and high cost.  They stated their interest in deploying WOCs within their production network in Brazil but were complaining about the lengthy amount of time it takes to get a WOC through customs.  They responded positively to my suggestion of using a vWOC and hence minimize the time it takes to get WOC functionality into production.

As noted, I will come back to the topic of virtualization in future blogs.