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VMworld 2013: Gigamon's 'visibility-as-a-service' and the risk of virtual networks

Gigamon debuted a network visibility-as-a-service tool at VMworld 2013.

During last week’s VMworld event, traffic visibility leader Gigamon debuted what it is calling "Visibility as a Service," or VaaS. Network visibility was a big theme at VMworld this year as VMware launched its NSX network virtualization product.

During his keynote, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger stated that the network is the next IT domain to be impacted by virtualization and, in fact, it’s the limitations of the network that hold organizations back from being able to migrate to a software defined data center (SDDC) or IT-as-a-service.

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This sounds great during a keynote, but, practically speaking, virtualizing the network has its risks and complications. I’ve heard many people use the benefits of server virtualization to describe how the network can be transformed and what the impact will be. While I don’t fully agree with this analogy, I do believe that some of the risks are similar. While many companies enjoy the fruits of virtualization today, remember that this technology went through some significant growing pains to get to this point.

I first started using VMware back around 1999 when it was freeware that I downloaded from Tucows, I believe. Back then, it was really something just engineers tinkered with, and was used by the geekiest of the geeks. By the mid-2000s, many organizations started to use server virtualization to consolidate hardware. As the growth of server virtualization became mainstream, server managers began to feel the pain of "vm sprawl," which was when virtual machines were created too fast and too often for server managers to track and manage them accurately. Eventually, management tools were created that gave virtualization engineers the visibility needed to manage large-scale virtual environments.

Similarly, the risk with network virtualization would be network overlay sprawl caused by individuals other than the network manager who have are able to create overlay networks. Imagine a scenario where an application developer, server manager and data center manager all create an overlay network. Now something isn't work and they call network engineering that has no concept of the virtual environment. This is the value that Gigamon brings as it can bridge that physical and virtual boundary.

The challenge for Gigamon is to make the product valuable to more than just network operations. The network has become central to data center evolution, mobile computing, VoIP, video, security and other areas of IT. Having to rely on network operations to troubleshoot all the problems doesn’t scale. However, buying a set of Gigamon-type products for each department certainly doesn’t scale either.

The "VaaS" offering from Gigamon allows IT to deploy a single visibility fabric but then allocate "virtual" fabrics to the departmental teams. Once the virtual fabric is set up, each team can control its own configurations and the data it sees through a GUI. This allows the internal teams to gain a view of what they need to see, but still maintain departmental compliance and privacy. This product should also appeal to cloud and hosting providers that want to offer visibility services to their customers. The multi-tenant capabilities should allow any provider to offer a differentiated view of the infrastructure without having to purchase equipment for each customer.

VMware did a nice job of articulating the value of the network at this year’s VMworld, but for IT individuals it’s difficult to manage what you can’t see. Gigamon’s ability to create discrete visibility fabrics should make it much easier for IT to give the different IT departments the ability to see what they need to, when they need to.

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