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VMware vForum 2014 and the Future of the Data Center Operational Model

At the recent vForum conference in Milan, where several Moviri experts were in attendance, VMware unveiled the results of a survey of more than 1,800 IT executives. The key findings highlight the increasing gap between the needs of the business and what IT is actually able to deliver.

IT is slowing business down

Two-thirds of IT decision makers say that there is an average gap of about four months between what the business expects and what IT can provide. The exponential growth in business expectations is increasingly unsustainable for traditional IT management. The IT challenges in the Mobile-Cloud era, as defined by VMware, require for example real-time data analysis, continuous delivery or resource deployments in hours, if not in minutes. This is not achievable with old resource management defined by hardware-driven infrastructures.

The VMware’s answer

The answer, according to VMware, comes from the so called Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC). VMware’s vision for IT infrastructure extends virtualization concepts such as abstraction, pooling, and automation to all of the data center’s resources and services to achieve IT as a service (ITaaS). In a SDDC, all elements of the infrastructure (networking, storage, CPU and security) are virtualized and delivered as a service, in order to bring IT at the Speed of Business.

VMware IT at the Speed of Business

Nowadays, enterprises invest in average only 30% of their IT budget in innovation. The reasons include manual device management, slow and non-automated provisioning, production workloads handled via email and everything else IT needs to perform just to “keep the lights on”. According to VMware, SDDC could help enterprises save 30% of capex and up to 60% of opex, allowing the investment in innovation to reach 50% of the IT budget and thus increasing market competitiveness.

VMware NSX release

VMware has drawn inspiration from great players in infrastructure innovation like Amazon, Facebook, Netflix or Google and has developed products for each technologic silo: vSphere for x86 virtualization, VSAN for storage and the just recently released NSX for network virtualization, the big news of this year.

The VMware NSX network virtualization platform provides the critical third pillar of VMware’s SDDC architecture. NSX delivers for networking what VMware has already delivered for compute and storage using network virtualization concepts.

Network and Server Virtualization

In much the same way that server virtualization allows to manage virtual machines, network hypervisor enables virtual networks to be handled without requiring any reconfiguration of the physical network.

Network virtualization overview

With network virtualization, the functional equivalent of a network hypervisor reproduces the complete set of Layer 2 to Layer 7 networking services (e.g., switching, routing, access control, firewalling and load balancing) in software. The result fundamentally transforms the data center network operational model, reduces network provisioning and simplifies network operations.

Since networking is no more just connecting machines, but rather delivering services like enable balancing, manage firewall rules or route planning, the first impression is that network virtualization, thanks to the combination of OpenFlow capabilities and experienced companies like VMware or Cisco, will have a similar revolutionary impact on the network, as server virtualization has had on servers.

As for x86 hypervisors, network hypervisors do not replace but enhance and add features on top of physical layers. They do not make connectivity available, they provide services and improve datacenter network agility. Physical connectivity is still required, but complex connections are no longer a requirements because everything can be handled at the software level.

Network virtualization (NV) in a nutshell, it’s a tunnel. Rather than physically connecting two domains in a network, NV creates a connection through the existing network to connect two domains. NV is helpful because it saves the time required to physically wire up each new domain connection, especially for new virtual machines. This is valuable because companies don’t have to change what they have already done. They get a new instrument to virtualize their infrastructure and make changes on top of the existing infrastructure.

Network Virtualization

The key benefits of NV could be summarized in:

  • Ability to easily overcome VLAN limits to support scalability network requirements.
  • Each application can have its own network and security policy via NV traffic isolation improving multi-tenancy.
  • No need to touch Layer 1 for the majority of requests.
  • Improved performance for VM-to-VM traffic within the same server or rack due to the fact that traffic is handled by the virtual switch because all the hops to the physical layer are just skipped.
  • NV management tools represent a single point of configuration, monitoring and troubleshooting in large virtualized data centers.

However, there are some disadvantages:

  • The new workload coming with NV features is now handled by hypervisors’ kernel and not from dedicated hardware.
  • Performance degradation and network traffic increase by tunnel-header overhead.

Conclusion

Current adoption of NV technology is in its very early stages with a few organizations in production and more communications service providers and enterprises in pilot implementations. Running NV software like NSX as an overlay to existing network infrastructure provides a relatively easy way to manage VM networking challenges. As a result, we expect NV adoption to strongly increase during the next two years in order to close the gap with SDDC and speed up IT to meet business demands, as suggested by VMware.

(Images courtesy of VMware vForum 2014)

 

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