VMware's Nicira acquisition represents new threats and new opportunities for network managers

The CIO of the future will need to be well-versed in all aspects of virtalization.

Perhaps you’re like a lot of us in IT. You’ve come up through the ranks, mastered subnetting and routing, understood the interaction between loss, latency and bandwidth, and learned the intricacies of Spanning Tree. And perhaps you’ve also avoided all that virtualization stuff, leaving it to the server team to worry about virtual machines and virtual processors. Well, I have news for you. If you value your job - if you want a career - you’d better start learning about virtualization.

The $1.8 billion price tag VMware paid for Nicira yesterday wasn’t because Nicira was a switch company. It was because Nicira was the virtual [the virtual italics] switch company. Virtualization has become the new iron from which every[italics] server and appliance will be built. “Mark my words, Dave, VMware will extend their leadership in server virtualization to network virtualization,” Rick Tinsley, Silver Peak’s CEO, told me the other day

Virtualization means enormous cost savings. We’ve seen how a virtual WAN optimizer can replace physical ones at a fraction of the cost. We’ve also seen how virtualization enables application owners and departments to solve their strategic problems faster than ever before. Instead of waiting for IT to find room in already overcrowded data centers, virtualization enables today’s business-line manager or application owner to deploy the infrastructure they need on a VM – today.

“We would have to wait nine months for more cabinet space in our data center, but to spin up a new VM could be done in a matter of days,” one architect at a tier-one service provider once told me. He eventually deployed a virtualized WAN optimization solution for that very reason.

Far from threatening IT personnel, though, the virtual movement creates new opportunities and lessons. IT will need to develop new guidelines and policies to help organizations select the right appliances for their needs. In the early days of networking, we too saw departments deploy applications on their LANs. Ultimately, though, those same departments turned to IT to manage the selection, troubleshooting and deployment of those networks and applications.

IT can serve a similar role in the virtual world as well. Bridging the gap of physical networking, virtualization, and application smarts will be critical in the years to come. We might talk about Software Defined Networks (SDNs) and OpenFlow, but there are still huge architectural bottlenecks that happen at the WAN. Applications, such as Hadoop, have tremendous sophistication, but often lack an in-depth understanding of the physical network that prevents them from factoring in the impact of the WAN. Organizations need engineers who can bridge the physical and virtual. Do that and you’ll position yourself to be the CIO of the future.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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