The network is built in

Cisco last week added more detail to its data center fabric story by rolling out a bevy of new products that provide extra touch points to use when comparing Cisco's strategy to the fabric plans of Juniper and Brocade.

All three companies, of course, are rushing to accommodate the new demands of highly virtualized, cloud-ready environments, and well they should. Virtualization is changing fundamental design decisions, decoupling, as it does, the compute piece from hardware and making it possible to move that around while retaining existing storage and network relationships.

IN DEPTH: Unleashing the promise of virtualization by re-architecting the network

This is great stuff. But perhaps just as important a trend to watch is how networking functions themselves are being sucked into the virtualization vortex. One of the early cheerleaders of this movement has been Vyatta, which sells Intel x86-based network appliances (routers, firewalls, VPNs), but also delivers the same functionality as virtual machines.

While the former has garnered Vyatta headlines (10G routers that sell for a few thousand bucks), the latter paves the way for whole new architectures, says Vyatta CEO Kelly Herrell. When you deploy virtualized, software-based network appliance rather than hardware, "you get the malleability, the flexibility to spin up a new system, grow its resources, shrink it back or turn it off, simply by turning dials," Herrell says. (Click here for a full Q&A.)

And when you do this in a cloud environment, the benefits are magnified, says Jon Greaves, CTO of Vyatta customer Carpathia Hosting Inc., a provider of managed hosting services. Vyatta lets Carpathia snap virtual machine appliances into the infrastructure wherever the need arises.

A Carpathia customer, for example, can put a Vyatta VM between a VLAN supporting application servers and a VLAN supporting database servers, Greaves says. "Then you can implement some deep policy checking to ensure only the right traffic -- say SQLnet traffic -- flows between those domains."

"Normally with a cloud platform you get a little bit of monitoring on the front end, but when you get deep into the cloud the VM-to-VM communication is pretty much the Wild West," Greaves says. "The Vyatta appliances allow us to embed an instance of firewall, IPS, VPN deep into the application architecture." (Click here for a full Q&A with Greaves.)

In a private cloud, this approach might give you enough controls to convince reluctant line of business folks to move to a shared computing environment.

Vyatta is only one of many companies catching this VM wave. A host of other VM network tools are emerging and promise to change the very complexion of our networks. Stay tuned.

Learn more about this topic

Cisco fleshes out its data center switch fabric story

Juniper leapfrogs Cisco with QFabric data center product blitz

Hosting firm taps software-based net tools to add granular cloud controls

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