By Daniel Montesanto, Global Product Strategy, HP Networking
To say that demands on enterprise IT have changed in recent years would be an understatement.
In the data center, server virtualization and cloud operating models have forever altered the way we initialize services, enabling new, large-scale application architectures that in turn force infrastructure consolidation and tons of so-called east-west data center traffic.
Meanwhile, clear at the other end of the IT chain, a flood of new devices, communications and collaboration models are disrupting the status quo at the client edge. Employees and partners are using technology to collaborate in new ways and access critical corporate assets with new handheld devices from the comfort of their homes or their local Starbucks.
In the middle of this churning sea sits the network.
How is the stuff connecting all those applications to all those users holding up?
On balance it would be fair to say that legacy networks – complex, static, slow to adapt – are a bit behind the times. Despite the march of time, the networking guy is still mostly stuck tweaking device-level CLIs to get the network where it needs to be. Whether or not tweaking all those knobs and dials DOES eventually get us a solid network is beside the point. It just takes too long to get there and changing it later is a painfully repetitive process at best.
More importantly, it seems we’ve lost site of the real goal of standing up a network in the first place: to connect users to applications and services. In essence, network administrators have been distracted by all that device-level tinkering and are essentially stuck in the network engine-room managing infrastructure, What would it take for to get these folks spending less time on engine-room tasks and more time on connecting users to services in the control room?
Applying server and storage virtualization principles to networking
The good news is that the principles at work that gave us server and storage virtualization can be applied on the networking side to yield a much more agile solution. Even today, we can already use “controllers” to deploy wireless access points in campus and branch networks, effectively virtualizing them and making them much easier to manage.
Consider this interesting possibility: How might we similarly virtualize all the rest of that networking gear? And how do you virtualize something that sprawls across buildings and maybe even cities? The answer: by taking control, one switch and router at a time.
Enter virtual service networks
HP’s vision for a virtual service network (VSN) architecture is for you to spend less time managing infrastructure and more time focused on connecting users to services.
The key technology enabler of HP’s approach to VSNs is to use a consolidated control plane to centrally “orchestrate” the physical network infrastructure – switches, routers, security appliance, embedded network applications – and provide much more powerful provisioning and management of a virtualized network solution.
In the de facto legacy network model, physical devices are managed directly using a set of traditional management tools used by network administrators to centrally configure devices and troubleshoot issues. Done right, this model can yield reasonable results, with a consolidated, single-pane-of-glass method for managing the network. In the VSN model, a control plane is injected between the network infrastructure and the management layer tools. This centralized control plane virtualizes the physical network infrastructure and allows network management to be transformed from traditional, device-by-device configuration to a much more agile model where network resources are provisioned logically and managed at the service level The net/net result is that that administrators can truly provision network services rather than just network connectivity to servers/applications in the data center or end users in the campus.
Rather than defining individual device configurations, administrators design VSNs that use the centralized control plane as an enabler and embody the policies that define the network services for a group of servers/applications or end-users. Once the network is provisioned in this manner, this architecture enables an end-user, service-oriented approach to monitoring, maintaining and scaling network resources over time.
Continuing the conversation on virtual service networks....
To describe what we mean, let’s take a closer look at networking in the data center and how virtual service networks lay the foundation for an agile and secure network solution.