Network Virtualization: The Bridge to the Future

“Like the mountain stages of the Tour de France cycling competition,” says Bruce Davie, VMware’s CTO of networking, “the challenges for IT are one tough climb after another.” Davie (who happens to be a keen cyclist) completes the analogy by drawing parallels to three of the most significant “climbs” endured by IT. The first, he says, was the virtualization of servers. The second was virtualizing the network. And now, he says, IT is facing its next set of challenges—and perhaps the steepest climb—in creating and securing networks when large parts of the infrastructure are no longer owned by the IT department.

A New Approach to Networking

Addressing a theme of Guido Appenzeller’s VMworld keynote,  Davie says that what’s needed to meet these new challenges is a new approach to networking. He argues that network virtualization is the linchpin to this new approach. It is the key, he says, to a long-term strategy to help IT solve the challenges associated with creating networks for a multi-cloud era. “Network virtualization is the bridge,” he says, “from solving today’s problems to solving tomorrow’s.”

Network virtualization is software that provides that new approach by decoupling networking and security services from the underlying physical hardware. “The realization we made,” says Davie, “is that network virtualization doesn’t just mean you can run any hardware in your own data center; it means that you don’t even have to care whose network infrastructure you’re using.” In other words, with network virtualization, applications can be deployed on any cloud while still giving IT the tools to manage and secure those applications. The physical hardware of an enterprise network, a public cloud, or data center continues to provide network connectivity, but the networking and security services required by applications and by IT become independent of the underlying infrastructure.  

Just as game-changing is the fact that all these networks can be managed as a single network, with, as Davie says, “all the same addressing, security services, monitoring and visibility. This is the power,” he continues, “of implementing networking capabilities in software that are independent of underlying hardware. It’s relatively easy to deploy the same network capabilities on any infrastructure—even parts that you don’t own.”

Creating the Infrastructure for Microservices

Another IT challenge associated with working and managing across clouds is creating an infrastructure for microservice architectures. A microservices architectural style defines an approach to developing applications composed of many distributed components, or services, as opposed to traditional applications that are built as a single unit. Distributed applications developed in a microservice architecture behave essentially like mini-networks, all the way down to running their own communications. Some well-known companies whose distributed applications have adopted microservice architectures include Netflix, eBay, PayPal, SoundCloud, and Twitter.

The great advantage of microservice applications is that they can be developed more efficiently. Components can be developed in relative independence and deployed on different clouds. This makes them ideal for creating new business applications that take advantage of the cloud’s competitive advantages and new opportunities for customer interaction and engagement. But, says Davie, “to interconnect these distributed components, developers need networking services.”

In many enterprises today, IT managers cannot respond quickly enough to new business apps being developed using microservices architectures. “When they can’t respond fast enough,” says Davie, “the individual lines of business (LOBs) tend to go around them,” and upload the new apps independently. This situation is the root cause for what is often referred to as the rise of “shadow IT” departments operating independently of enterprise IT management.

To resolve this conflict, says Davie, organizations “need a new network infrastructure in this new developer-centric world that’s easy to provision, while also providing IT administrators the tools they need to ensure security and compliance.” In fact, a group of thought leaders recently took on this very issue at VMworld U.S. “Network virtualization,” Davie continues, “the technology at the heart of VMware® NSX™, provides precisely this balance between ease of provisioning and inherently secure infrastructure.”

The Bridge to the Future

“As more of our customers recognize how important their digital business is to future growth,” says Davie, “they are embracing network virtualization as part of a long-term strategy.” Davie says that it is “tremendously exciting” to be part of the VMware team ushering in the architecture of NSX network virtualization.

“I’m not about to claim that we’ve solved all problems in networking,” Davie concludes, “but I do see a future in which networking, decoupled from any particular choice of hardware or infrastructure provider, allows customers to successfully move their businesses forward by embracing the best new technologies available.” This is the future that NSX network virtualization makes possible. It is the bridge from solving today’s problems to tomorrow’s: the bridge to the future.