If You’re Doing Cloud, You’d Better Be Doing Network Virtualization

Fiber Optic GlobeIt’s interesting how the networking industry tends to get fixated on certain topics that everyone tries to get a piece of while they are hot. It’s a little like NFL offenses. Years ago, during the 49ers dynasty, everyone was trying to do some version of the west coast offense. More recently, the wildcat was something many teams tried to implement. Today, the read option is the hot strategy. Some trends have actual staying power, like the west coast, but others die a quick death.

Networking follows similar trends. Remember when FCoE was crazy hot? Most recently every vendor was jumping on the SDN bandwagon. Today, WAN virtualization is about as hot a topic as there has been in recent years. I don’t think there’s any network professional that would advocate for keeping the WAN the way it is. Manual processes, truck rolls, long lead times for changes, and a lack of agility is certainly not a recipe for a successful WAN strategy.

Make no mistake; WAN virtualization is as hot as athletic QBs in the NFL today, and there are many reasons why network managers are finally looking to evolve the WAN. I recently got some survey data back from ZK Research media partner, Tech Target on the topic of WAN virtualization. “What is driving your interest in WAN virtualization?” The top response, at 46%, is “Improve the performance of cloud based applications”. “Compliment our WAN optimization strategy” had a 35% hit rate, well behind improving cloud performance. Third on the list, at 25%, is improving VoIP delivery. Given the challenges in running voice over a WAN, this makes sense.

When I saw the data, I was pleasantly surprised to see the top response be related to the cloud. Historically, network managers have considered the WAN to be the private network that sits behind the corporate firewall. Anything on the inside of that demarcation point is considered the WAN; everything on the other side is the Internet and something that can’t really be optimized.

The fact that the top driver for WAN virtualization is improving the performance of cloud applications tells me that many organizations now consider the WAN to extend out to the cloud. The “new WAN” obviously poses a number of challenges for today’s network manager that WAN virtualization can solve. First, the cloud creates unpredictable traffic patterns so the ability to create dynamic paths is a must today. Trying to manually adjust the WAN has always been difficult but is impossible when dealing with cloud resources. Network professionals just can’t keep up with the speed of the cloud driven business.

Security is also a big challenge with hybrid WANs and WAN virtualization allows for NFV-enabled services, such as security, to be created on an “on demand” basis. Need to secure a path? Just provision it through software. No truck rolls, no appliance purchases, and no long lead times.

Most businesses today are looking to leverage the power of the cloud. Anyone that’s looking to use cloud strategically should be taking a serious look at WAN virtualization. The ZK Research – TechTarget data showed that about half of companies are today but almost every organization can benefit from this technology shift.