Virtualization Levels The Network Playing Field
Q: How many social workers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Only one… but the light bulb must want to change.
Yes indeed, change is upon us. After years and years of the same thing in networking, 2010 seems to be the year it’s all up-ending. The change agent? Virtualization.
The analysts are really jumping on the bandwagon now. Just listen to IDC’s Cindy Borovick: “It’s clear to the industry that, because of server virtualization, a new network needs to emerge.” Or how about Zeus Kerravala from Yankee Group: “Virtualization levels the network playing field. The vendor that solves that problem first has a huge upside.”
The truth is, it’s impossible to ignore now. Off the top of my head I can count seven networking-related virtual machines that are selling today, and over half of them were launched in Q1 of this year. I’m pretty sure Vyatta had the first one (2008) but now there is also Checkpoint, Zeus, Citrix, IBM, and F5… and others are right around the corner. All are taking advantage of standard virtualization platforms and x86 price/performance, and the how-to manuals are just becoming public. It’s quite easy to quickly take advantage of this revolution… after all, the products are all very well proven.
The huge datacenter products are trying to evolve also. What we’re seeing from Cisco and Juniper is the opposite of an open-systems approach… it’s more like trying to boil the ocean. Their objective: trap more and more functionality inside their proprietary systems by invoking virtualization. Cisco wants to wrap you up in a comfy blanket that tightly integrates their Unified Computing System with their Nexus switch and proprietary vSwitch… all you have to do is hand them the majority of your budget and a tell your management you gave one of the world’s most profitable vendors a proprietary lock on the majority of your infrastructure. And Juniper’s trying to catch up: “Juniper’s rollout takes aim at Cisco’s Nexus switches and other data center network wares, while setting the stage for Juniper’s Project Stratus, a converged data center fabric unveiled in early 2009 but still another eight to 12 months away from delivery.”
These big datacenter products are advancing at a snail’s pace, as is their adoption. (It kind of reminds me of my teenage years: Everybody says they’re doing it, but not that many really are; and those that are, aren’t doing it very well 🙂 The most fascinating part is how the Big Switch Guys — the vendors who make the SUVs of the datacenter — are responding to a technical revolution by making even larger SUVs.
What the industry needs is more nimble solutions, not more unwieldy ones. We need hardware cost curves that mimic efficient servers, not gold-plated Hummers. We need standards and openness, not proprietary architectures. Today’s server infrastructure has such great efficiencies — including virtualization, mind you — precisely because the mainframe model broke into components. Juniper and Cisco want make the mainframe bigger.
So yes, Virginia, virtualization does change networking… through standards-based approaches. Anything else is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, worn by hugely profitable incumbents. And the industry knows it.
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