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2012 in Networking - When Worlds Collide (this is not a movie title!)
Article by Omar Baldonado, head of Product Management, Big Switch Networks
If you've seen the movie "2012" or read any recent popular articles about the Mayan calendar, you know that 2012 already has its fair share of predictions! While I'm pretty confident that the world will still exist in 2013, I do think the space of networking will indeed undergo major changes in 2012. Specifically in the enterprise, I believe we'll see a consistent pattern of "worlds colliding," where domains of network expertise that are typically siloed will be pushed together for better business operational speed and efficiency. I'll cover three of the main "collisions" that I predict will happen in 2012 here.
1. Physical meets Virtual
Server virtualization has been such a success - an often-quoted statistic from Paul Maritz's keynote at 2011 VMworld is that 50% of the server workloads are now running virtualized. From a networking perspective, that means 50% of the server workloads go through a software-based virtual switch.
The runaway success of server virtualization means that the portion of the network running on the virtual switches is most likely operated as a separate silo from the physical network. In this model, server admins are spinning up and moving around workloads, waiting for the network to keep up. The two portions of the network are typically operated at arms length from each other (e.g., "I'll preallocate some VLANs for the server admins to use").
While this has worked for a while, more and more enterprise network operators now realize that there are significant efficiency wins to be had by rethinking how they traditionally have operated the virtual/software-based network and the physical network, moving to designs that run both as a single combined system.
Prediction: For 2012, I predict at least 20% of the Fortune 500 will have projects with RFP line items like, "How can we manage, control and optimize both our physical and virtual switch infrastructure as a single system?"
2. Public meets Private
While the "cloud" is a tough term to nail down nowadays, it almost always involves a simple service delivery model for clients/tenants, and it has a clear relation to server virtualization. Given the success of server virtualization in the enterprise and the success of public cloud offerings, many enterprise IT departments are considering the benefits of the cloud, whether it's public or private or more likely both.
The initial fears of public clouds (privacy/security) are steadily being assuaged and overcome - zero capex and the ease of getting onto the public cloud are tough to ignore. However, just like I've never seen a customer that has 100% physical switches or 100% virtual switches, it's unlikely that many major enterprises will run entirely in the public cloud any time soon. At the same time, it's unlikely they will be able to completely avoid it. Thus, the future enterprise cloud is a hybrid cloud.
While the hybrid cloud theme is by no means new for 2012 (by some reports hybrid cloud adoption is already more than 25%), the networking for such a hybrid cloud is still in its infancy. The easiest and safest networking design is to completely silo apps/users running on the public cloud from the internal network, and this is the initial design being deployed today. However, we see this as not yet realizing all the efficiencies of the public cloud for internal use.
Prediction: For 2012, I predict again that at least 20% of the Fortune 500 will have projects that try to integrate more tightly a public cloud infrastructure with their private cloud infrastructure.
3. Networking meets Software
With OpenFlow and Software-Defined Networking (SDN), we often say that the network is now a set of programmable entities that are easier to program, but that's mostly important for the network software developers, like those of us at Big Switch Networks. Most enterprise network IT folks are not network software developers, so I'll enumerate a few of the high-level value-adds of SDN and OpenFlow:
a. You can think of your network as a complete, standard-based system, not as individual devices. This will help you be more efficient in rolling out new services as well as troubleshooting problems.
b. Closely related to point (a), the network is now "closer" and more tied to the applications and people using the network. You can think of the applications and people that want to be on the network and then design, control and operate the network for them.
c. If networking vendors can stick with open systems and standards, you'll see new network functionality coming out more quickly and from a wider ecosystem - think App Store on top of a network controller platform.
There are many large and small companies blazing trails in the SDN frontier, but we're still relatively early in its adoption. However, there's already enough momentum and interest to make a prediction, especially as it relates to my earlier two predictions.
Prediction: In 2012, at least 20% of the Fortune 500 will have evaluations underway of OpenFlow-based SDN solutions, specifically to address a combined physical/virtual network infrastructure or a hybrid public/private cloud designs.
So look out for these "worlds colliding" in 2012 - I'm looking forward to an exciting year!
Best wishes to all.