VMware: Make Your Networks 10x Simpler to Manage

Important takeaways from EMCWorld regarding virtual appliances and network management.

An important message came out of EMCWorld last week that should interest anyone looking to run a major data network. Both EMC and VMWare drew attention to the importance of making our networks simpler to run and manage. If organizations are going to build truly massive networks efficiently, reducing the time it takes to deploy and manage resources is essential. The big question now is whether network and infrastructure vendors are going to follow suit.

For too long, the economics of managing today’s data networks have been incongruous with the cost of managing other large-scale networks, such as the phone network. Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, noted in his keynote that about a year ago Google had ~1.3mil servers and the best industry ratio of server admins/server (e.g., 1:1,000). VMware, he says, wants to get to 1 server admin per 10,000 VMs and workloads should run just $100 per year for infrastructure cost.

Getting to that amazing server ratio requires vendors to focus on not just adding more capacity or improving performance, but making things easier to run and maintain. This message was something that EMC may not have stressed in its headline (hybrid clouds got that call), but was implicit in much of the company’s product announcements:

  • The new EMC® VMAX® Family—consisting of the VMAX 10K, VMAX 20K and the VMAX 40K—brings a host of new software capabilities for streamlining operations.
  • The new VNX® unified storage enhancements for the midrange storage market includes software that simplifies management in virtualized environments.
  • The new EMC DataBridge™ enterprise management tool provides IT operations teams with "single-pane of glass" management to easily build customizable dashboards for delivering ITaaS. DataBridge provides customers with real-time IT infrastructure management data at their finger-tips. 

(and for the other 39 products you can learn more by reading this Computerworld article.)

Virtualization and storage vendors aren’t alone, though. Network infrastructure providers must also reevaluate the complete cycle of how we deploy and manage our appliances in today’s enterprises. Going virtual, as Maritz pointed out, is a first step.

One can order, deliver, and deploy a virtual appliance in about 15 minutes. It would take a lot longer just to drive to your local Fry’s and buy a hardware appliance, let alone deploy it. Maritz noted that virtual appliances also open other possibilities, such as moving the appliance with the application when it becomes mobile. We’re already seeing some data centers are moving virtualized WAN optimizers from site to site based on follow-the-sun operations.

But simply virtualizing appliances is only the first step. The entire deployment lifecycle of the product needs to be considered. The dirty little secret amongst today’s networking vendors is that even easy-to-deploy products become mega deployment headaches under certain configurations.

Appliances need to become smarter to address those border cases. They need to offer auto configuration to adapt the appliance to any mix of protocols or applications. They need to be smart enough to auto-select the right options within those environments. They need to offer policies out-of-the-box that provide the enterprise with insight on how best to leverage the appliance based on the experience of the thousands and tens of thousands of implementations we vendors encounter.

Ultimately, it’s about making our hardware as easy to deploy as software. “My vision,” Carl Hubbard, Silver Peak’s senior vice president of engineering and operations, told me the other day, “is that one day IT will be able to select ‘optimize’ from their VCenter screen and the system will install, configure and deploy the appliance without any intervention from the admin.”

I buy that. What sort of simplification features would you like to see in your appliances? (Hat tip to Brian Marshall, the IT hardware & data networking analyst at the ISI Group, for an excellent synopsis of Maritz’s speech.)

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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