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Are enterprises ready for network virtualization?

Some service providers are already jumping on board, but how far until the enterprise takes a serious look at this potentially game-changing technology?

By , Network World
August 26, 2013 12:01 PM ET

Network World - Chris Harney works as a consultant for VMware resellers and consultants, and he also runs a well-populated virtualization user group in New England named VTUG (Virtual Technology User Group). He’s regularly out and about working with companies and people who work with enterprises on a daily basis.

Network World was interested in doing a story about network virtualization and where it is in terms of  adoption. We asked him to reach out to some of his VTUG members to see if any of them would be willing to talk to us. “Honestly, it’s not something I’ve spent any real time thinking about, so it’d be a waste of time,” one user responded. Harney got dozens of similar responses. Implementing virtual networking just isn’t a top-of-mind issue for his members.  

[MORE VIRTUAL NETWORKING: The promise of SDN]

What to watch for at VMworld

Virtual networking has been called by some the next big thing in the industry. Perhaps proponents have reason to be optimistic – about a decade ago hypervisors let servers more efficiently utilize compute resources by creating virtual machines. Why can’t abstracting networking functions from the underlying hardware to be controlled through software be as big of an occasion?

“There’s still some apprehension to go all in with (virtual networking),” Harney says. “There’s a lot of trust that has to happen there. I think we’ll get there, but it will take some time.”

VMware is trying to perhaps speed things along this week. A major focus of the company’s annual VMworld conference in San Francisco is on the software defined data center, which includes virtual networking. The company announced at the show that its premier virtual networking software, NSX, will be generally available by the fourth quarter of this year.

Martin Casado
Martin Casado

It’s a natural move for VMware – the company last year spent $1.2 billion to buy Nicira, one of the darlings of the budding virtual networking movement, whose leader Martin Casado is one of the visionary architects of the OpenFlow protocol, the basis for many virtual networking capabilities.

A year ago, Casado, who is now chief networking architect at VMware, said the conversations he was having with potential customers was around market education. Today, people know what network virtualization is and now they want to know how they can implement it. VMware cites enterprise customers like GE Appliances, WestJet, eBay and Citigroup as being some of its customers. VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger told Network World in a recent  interview that today’s adopters represent “lighthouse accounts” for the company.

IDC Analyst Brad Casemore says the earliest adopters of this technology have been hyperscale technology businesses and cloud service providers who have dynamic networking needs and high virtual machine density. “The enterprise market is going to take a bit longer to come around,” he says. But, VMware highlighting early customer wins is an important key to proving out this technology’s functionality.

Not every company will experience the pains that virtual networking will help solve though, he adds; even today there are enterprises that have yet to virtualize their compute layer and still run on mainframes or bare metal servers. As companies adopt private clouds in their data centers, as virtual machine density increases and network demands become more dynamic, this technology will make more and more sense, Casemore says.  

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