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Agile Computing: Article

Virtualization Driving the Network Revolution

SRI Infrastructure 2.0 Team Working on Next Tech Disruption

Today virtualization is creating new demands for another tech disruption.  Perhaps the first shots in this revolution were fired last week at an all day working session of networking legends and "Young Turks" at the SRI Infrastructure 2.0 meeting.  Time will tell, but the level of interest and discussion was exhilarating and timely.  Vint Cerf, Bob Grossman and Dan Lynch did an incredible job setting up the session with the help of SRI.

Virtualization Demands will drive the next Network Revolution
My take on why we met: Because of the spread of virtualization the IT industry is already experiencing the effects of an increasing disconnect between system and network automation.  Virtualization, for example, increases the rate of change and can create new levels of network complexity (see virtualization-lite) because of the proliferation of static vLANS (virtual network segments).

A participant in the SRI I2.0 session told me during the lunch break that vLANS are "ugly, necessary workarounds" (as they continue to spread through production data centers).  That's because the decoupling of application from hardware enabled by virtualization is still tethered by network shortcomings... the final frontier for cloud computing.

As discussed at the infrastructure 2.0 blog system automation is running into network constraints driven by outdated management tools and processes in the network itself.  The initial period of substantial capex payoffs enabled by virtualization ultimately levels off and new opex burdens emerge as VM sprawl and VLAN complexity replace endpoint complexity.

Increasing cost and complexity then sets the stage for new tech investments, centered in the network itself, setting in motion new network economies and new cloud computing potentials.  The first companies to drive expense out of the network will have a strategic advantage over those who simply rely on faster, cheaper (capex models) gear as the industry experiences disruptive new realities driven by rising complexity and movement.

Last week Mark Anderson's paid SNS newsletter highlighted a few comments I made at the 2009 Future in Review Conference about the rising cost of complexity, and then made an interesting comment:

Complexity costs exponentially more, the more complex it gets.
So here is a pretty interesting question:

As we construct ever more complex systems, at what stage(s) do we encounter reverse economies of scale? And are we armed with any useful techniques or theories to assist us in overcoming this set of issues?

- Mark Anderson, The Cost of Complexity, SNS News, Week of Aug 31, 2009

The next network revolution, however, is about more than reducing complexity and cost, it's about a new and powerful synergy between automated systems and automated networks.  New applications, new economics, new potentials are unleashed by this synergy, transforming the IT industry yet again.

Those who view automation as simply labor replacement will again be left behind as automated networks find new missions and sell more gear and make those who run them ever more strategic to larger and larger networks.  Companies who master the complexity and drive out costs are the future hope for new careers and innovations.

The Power of Stateful Live Migration
One of the promising new capabilities associated with network automation is stateful VMotion (or stateful live migration).  Stateful, frictionless live migration of servers in pursuit of temporary operational advantages is a key factor in the future of cloud computing, especially private enterprise clouds.  It will flip the economics of mainframe-era centralization strategies (even those in low cost areas) upside down as networks once again prove the power of the mesh over the isolated container.

The ability to shift processing cycles from one facility to another, for example,  based on even temporary changes in expenses, users, taxes or disaster effects, etc. is infinitely more powerful than a one-time static decision made every 10-15 years supplemented by manual shifts and committees.  We've seen this movie before and we're about to see it again.

The Trigger Point
The emergence of larger and more complex vLAN empires will ultimately create enough pain and complexity to force the evolution of network infrastructure, in the same way that the static network created the massive production virtualization opportunity.   Larger, more complex networks deploying increasing populations of VLANs will be the first to evolve.  And thanks to some of my personal heroes in networking the effort may have just begun.

More Stories By Greg Ness

Greg Ness is a Silicon Valley marketing veteran with background in networking, security, virtualization and cloud computing. He is VP Marketing at CloudVelocity. Formerly at Vantage Data Centers, Infoblox, Blue Lane Technologies, Juniper Networks, Redline Networks, McAfee, IntruVerofficer at Networks and ShoreTel. He is one of the world's top cloud bloggers.

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