Benefits of Network Virtualization to Enterprise Customers

Virtualization has changed the world of datacenter infrastructure in Enterprises. It has helped Enterprises to reduce the footprint in their datacenters, avoid high CapEx and reduced OpEx with this converged infrastructure and automate the provisioning of the compute nodes. With virtualization, the compute nodes can now be provisioned in a matter of seconds. But compute nodes are not the only component in a datacenter infrastructure. There is network that connects these devices and there is storage that stores all the data. Both these components are still manually configured today and as a result, the dream of a fully automated datacenter to support a cloud, is not fully realized as of yet.

Cloud computing is a concept that takes virtualization to an altogether different level. It is more relevant for enterprises being able to automatically provision their applications to an end user irrespective of the location or the device. With the prevalence of BYOD, mobile workforce etc., enterprises are looking for a way to develop applications for the cloud that can be delivered to the end user/customer as soon as they are requested for or in a matter of seconds. However, there are some bottlenecks. The network that connects the virtual or physical compute nodes is still not virtualized, meaning, it has to be provisioned manually and it takes days or in some cases weeks to do so. For an application environment or datacenter to be fully virtualized and ready for a cloud environment, the infrastructure that includes compute, network and storage nodes, has to be fully automated or virtualized.

Network virtualization or Software Defined Networking (SDN) is an overlay based approach that helps a network administrator in an enterprise datacenter to program and provision the network on-demand and without having physical access to the switches or routers. SDN allows a network to be provisioned in a matter of seconds, as opposed to days or weeks it takes today. There are numerous benefits of network virtualization in an enterprise datacenter listed below:

1. Easy and cheaper to manage networks: With network virtualization you can manage your network devices through a single management console. You don’t need physical access to switches, varied skills sets to manage multiple switches and routers, and you can cut down the cost to purchase core switches and routers.

2. Reduce time to provision: With highly programmable networks and an overlay approach, you can provision networks for your workloads in a matter of seconds. It helps you to deploy your applications in a much quicker time and reduces time to market for your applications thereby increasing your business revenue.

3. Avoids limitations in current network topologies: Current network topologies are rigid and prone to all kinds of problems. Technologies like VLAN have limitations around scalability and manageability whereas L2 domains are cramped with problems like Spanning Tree in the underlying protocols. Overlay networks that works on L3 or a combination of L2 and L3 allow you to avoid these problems. You can create large virtual networks that are easier to manage and that can span across your datacenter and connect branch offices. Since virtual networks work on L3, they have a 24-bit virtual network interface (VNI) that allows you to have 16 million isolated networks as opposed to 4096 allowed by VLAN.

4. Stepping stone for building a fully automated cloud environment: A cloud environment will only be successful if the underlying infrastructure is fully automated and programmable. Network virtualization allows you to fully automate your network infrastructure by allowing you to program and provision your networks based on network/security policies. With network virtualization, you can provision your virtual or physical workloads in matter of seconds. In addition, network virtualization will help you build a fully automated private cloud or a hybrid cloud environment.

5. Allows for policy based access – Granular security and easier compliance: Enterprises across multiple verticals; be it finance, healthcare etc. are struggling with implementing security and compliance requirements in their datacenter infrastructures. Network virtualization helps them to address this pain point by implementing granular security and access policies that are in line with the compliance requirements. By using network virtualization you can implement security and compliance on-demand.

6. Analytics and easier troubleshooting: It is very difficult to troubleshoot a network and that also leads to longer downtime for your business applications. With network virtualization, you can have a analytics engine to monitor your networks and provide historical as well as real time data. This data can further be consumed by your applications using the northbound APIs and can be used for improving the scalability and accessibility of your applications which in turn will reduce the downtime of these applications.

Network virtualization solves a lot of networking challenges for an enterprise datacenter. Starting from making the network agile, simple and scalable, it also helps enterprise to reduce the cost of managing a network (devices, resources etc.) but also makes it available at all times. This helps an enterprise to reduce the downtime of its business critical applications, improve customer experience and increase business revenue as a result.

In times where the competition is intense, enterprises are finding ways to not only retain their customers but also win customers from its competitors. In this race, enterprises that are agile are most probably going to win. Network virtualization will make you agile and will help improve end user experience with your applications.

— As published on Wired:Innovation Insights on April 11th 2014 
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