Enterprise IT Bracing for 'Big Bang' Network Transformation

by: Gregory Ness

In the meat space of confusion and contradiction caused by the collision between virtualization and the typical 70s-era management of today’s networks the future direction of IT will be determined. Tremendous value is likely to be created in the automation of the network, as factories and supply chains were similarly automated over the last few decades, thanks ironically to the network.

That’s why I think the future of the networking industry and the market valuations of today’s leaders and upstarts will be shaped by how well (and how fast) they can adapt to the new cloud paradigm promise; and unleash the full power of virtualization now unleashed in pockets within the data center by leaders VMware (NYSE:VMW), Citrix (NASDAQ:CTXS) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

The Problem

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and other cloud service providers combined with these virtualization leaders are introducing new levels of system automation (change) that are putting greater distance between the power of system automation and the kludge of specialized, risky manual labor and practices required to keep networks available and secure.

Virtualization, for example, allows an IT pro to create and move a virtual server in seconds while many large enterprises may take days to simply provision a server. In the short term virtual networks are created (VLANs) that allow for tactical flexibility; all virtual machines share a network connection. While this scenario works for small businesses and VLANs populated with a reasonable amount of similar applications, it eventually breaks down as VLANs get congested.

Without adequate network connectivity, flexibility and intelligence, VLANs eventually run their course and create hardships between system and network teams who are stuck arbitrating changes at two very different paces. The benefits of virtualization, however impressive initially, are eroded as VLANs get overpopulated.

This problem will be initially felt at “best in class” virtualization shops who will be the first to test the limits, driven by the powerful initial business case for virtualizing racks of legacy servers taking up increasing management resources as more are added. The VLAN delays the inevitable until network automation can deliver equivalent tools for network teams.

It’s not enough that networks will soon be connecting more than 1 trillion devices, they’ll also have to get deeper visibility and control when it comes to these fluid virtualized environments which are growing at a fast clip. According to Yahoo VMware has a P/E (as of April 16, 2010) of 114.

In a recent interview VMware CEO Paul Maritz talked about the rise of clouds as a “long term journey” and the need to better move resources/workloads between enterprise environments and service provider infrastructures. That will require network infrastructure automation on a level which none of the networking or virtualization leaders can provide today.

The term “Infrastructure 2.0” refers to an evolution of network infrastructure towards dynamic automation. In Infrastructure 2.0, network architecture emerges from the dynamic orchestration of IT elements– servers, storage, switches, firewalls etc. Instead of a fixed architecture where each component has a specific place and fixed scale, Infrastructure 2.0 is loosely coupled and dynamically adjusts to changes in demand.

- Andreas Antonopoulos, SVP, Nemertes Research, “Dynamic Core Infrastructure Services” 2010

And whoever delivers on the promise of automated network infrastructure capable of keeping up with fluid and increasingly populated virtual infrastructure will establish a business case that will drive another wave of capex expansion.

Without network automation, system automation is trapped into pockets that ultimately become so dense that they break down. As more virtual machines are easily created and moved networks fall further behind and have less visibility into what they’re connecting. That is, they become less capable of performing their key functions (security, application delivery, connectivity, etc.).

As Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), HP (NYSE:HPQ), F5 (NASDAQ:FFIV), VMware and others start attacking these key challenges stemming from this collision between the dynamic, automated systems of virtualization and static, manually-managed networks I thought it would be useful to group key infrastructure 2.0 links and upcoming events.

Catching Up on the Infrastructure 2.0 Conversation

In December 2008 I collected links to some excellent posts on infrastructure 2.0 and consolidated them into a single blog entitled Infrastructure 2.0. It has links to a series of blogs and podcasts created during the early days of the infrastructure 2.0 conversation, including great content by Lori MacVittie, Chris Hoff, Geva Perry and James Urquhart.

Disclosure: Long EMC (holder of VMware), HPQ