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Making Real Networks From Virtual Things

Virtual switches and routers, when combined with user- and service-specific tunneling, could boost network agility.

Talk about virtualization is so pervasive these days that you have to wonder if anything is real anymore. Network architects in particular must be asking this question, because at the root of every network strategy is the reality that you have to sell services and carry traffic.

To justify virtualization of routing, switching, and other functions, we not only have to support those two goals but do so in a way that's better than the real boxes of today could. The questions are "Can that be done?" and "How?" and the path to answers may start by recognizing that no single technology shift will do it all.

The basic idea of virtualization is to create the behavior or features of a physical device by taking a software-based abstraction of those features and hosting it on a pool of resources. The principles are the same as those already being adopted in cloud computing -- a virtual server is created by hosting a virtual machine on a real resource pool. The key point here is that the abstraction of network functionality can take two basic forms -- a single virtual element can provide all the features of a real device, or a system of interworking elements can combine to create those features. We can see examples of both these approaches developing today.

Read the rest of this story on No Jitter.

Tom is a software engineer and architect with more than 30 years experience in telecommunications and network technology. He has been an independent consultant specializing in telecom, datacomm, media, technology, market forecasting, and regulatory policy analysis since 1979, ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
1/6/2015 | 9:27:53 AM
Re: Making Real Networks From Virtual Things
Thanks for this, Tom. At first glance, what you have here may appear to be a general overview of all the basics of virtual networks that we already know and love (or, loathe). Taking a look at the full version on No Jitter revealed to me, though, a comprehensive guide to the underlying technologies that make up virtual networks, as well as some thought-provoking critique of the real value of SDN, where some technologies might be redundant, and where some vendors may be going astray. I think that's where many blogs are coming up short - we're all so busy getting on board the hype train that we forget to notice that, yes, some people are doing things wrong in this space! The value doesn't come from installing SDN, it comes from making real business gains!

I was particularly interested to note that you had some reservations about how the Open Networking Foundation is doing things. I'm generally a big fan of open movements, and I've been very happy to see them take off in modern areas like SDN. I do see your point about putting all your eggs in one basket could be a problem (or at least, miss the point of benefit), but on the other hand I tend to think that's how most enterprises will do business anyway. Vendor lock-in or no, most enterprises are inclined to stick with what they know - if they have existing Cisco certs and licenses, they'll go all Cisco, etc.  They know it will all be compatible, they know they like the support (unless they don't), and they know (think) they'll get a good deal. You could say the same might end up true for virtual networks, and while they certainly do have a dog in the fight, one could see how that's the future ONF is anticipating.
User Rank: Ninja
1/6/2015 | 7:29:23 AM
Is it real?
"Talk about virtualization is so pervasive these days that you have to wonder if anything is real anymore."

I hear this a lot when describing virtual switches, I suspect this is a lot like the talks technical folks had when they said they could do call routing on phone lines without an operator.  I don't know how many people have been in IT that long but many of us have been around long enough to have seen IP bases PBXs take the place of a digital PBX so the concept isn't new but it does take a shifting mindset.  
User Rank: Ninja
1/5/2015 | 5:07:41 PM
The ability to monitor and change security parameters from a central location has been a strong point for SDN, and with new ecosystems such as, the IoT, where networks can appear and disappear at intervals -- centralized control makes sense.

Utilizing general purpose compute power that is cheaply available rather than, specialized and expensive hardware is a benefit. But if, the general purpose route is enable new capabilities then the economics might even be overlooked. 
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