June 28, 2010

2010 Virtualization: Benefits, Challenges and Solutions

  • A Special Report by the Webtorials Analyst Division
  • Jim Metzler, Principal Analyst and Co-Founder
In the current environment, almost every component of IT can be virtualized.  This includes:
  • Servers
  • Desktops
  • Applications
  • Management probes
  • I/O
  • Wide Area Networks
  • Local Area Networks
  • Switches
  • Routers
  • Firewalls
  • Storage
  • Appliances such as WAN optimization controllers, application delivery controllers and firewalls

This report will focus primarily on three forms of virtualization:  server virtualization, desktop virtualization and virtualized appliances.  The benefits of server and desktop virtualization have been discussed in length in various trade publications.  As a result, this report will not dwell on those topics, but will instead focus on defining the challenges associated with server and desktop virtualization as well as on the technologies, both existing and emerging, that enable IT organizations to respond to those challenges.  Because the benefits of virtual appliances have not been discussed in length in the trade publications, this report will discuss those benefits.  This report will also discuss the challenges associated with virtual appliances as well as the technologies, both existing and emerging, that enable IT organizations to respond to those challenges.  

This report will only briefly mention the impact that virtualization has on networking.  That topic will be covered in detail in a report to be published on or about October 1, 2010. That report is entitled Cloud Networking.

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This is an excellent report by my colleague and division co-founder, Jim Metzler.

The description above does a super job of describing the content. That said, I look forward to your participating in the discussion to follow.

Also, many thanks to Certeon, Blue Coat, Cisco, Linesider, Zeus, and Expand Networks for their support that helped make the report possible.

There is no doubt that virtualization creates some very significant benefits, many of which have been well chronicled in the trade press. There is also no doubt that, as is often the case, there has been much more discussion of the benefits of virtualization than there has been of the challenges associated with virtualization.

This report describes the challenges associated with server, desktop and appliance virtualization. The goal of doing this was not to imply that IT organizations should avoid implementing virtualization. Rather, the goal was to inform IT organizations of the challenges, as well as some of the emerging solutions, so that IT organizations can better plan their virtualization projects and in this way, be more successful with them.

In spite of the oft-touted view that virtualization brings simplicity, the document discusses numerous challenges that are faced in a virtualized environment.

I would be most eager to hear from the sponsors (and others) as to what you see as the most significant challenge(s) - no more than three, please - and how you go about addressing these challenges.


Virtualization if done right, does bring simplicity, however, 'doing it right' is where the complexity lies. As we learned early-on with our customers that operate highly virtualized data centers and Cloud environments (both public and private) the biggest challenges that they faced include:

1. Shifting costs and smaller ROI’s than initially projected.

Industry reports and analysts have confirmed that operational cost simply shifted from the data center into the network infrastructure. Engineers are now sitting at network device command lines building security and access profiles for virtual resources that are being requested at unprecedented rates. Once network access and security is in place, already strained IT organizations are faced with unending change requests as the virtual resources are moved, re-allocated, re-provisioned or retired.

2. Provisioning still not meeting desired timeframes.

One of the key goals of virtualization has always been a more nimble IT provisioning operation that could finally meet the demands of the business... “I need it NOW”. Companies are finding however, that the rapid deployment and increased flexibility compute virtualization provides tends to get negated and constrained by an inflexible and fragile network infrastructure bound by manual provisioning of network devices and services that still takes days to provision.

3. Lack of automation for highly dynamic virtual infrastructures.

Most companies that have invested heavily in virtualization and Cloud solutions find that existing framework automation solutions from companies such as HP, BMC, CA, IBM and EMC cannot scale to the demands of highly dynamic operations simply because these traditional framework solutions are built on architectures driven by manually constructed scripts and templates that are as inflexible and cumbersome as the traditional command-line interfaces.

The goal of Network Service Virtualization solutions such as LineSider’s OverDrive NSV platform is to provide the same level of service virtualization and fluidity across all three key domain areas -compute, storage AND network.

The OverDrive NSV engine can automate the key network infrastructure layer-2, layer-3 and security services while orchestrating interactions across all three of these domains as a single holistic offering that enables true on-demand IT service provisioning and delivery.

By doing so, the OverDrive NSV engine removes the cost that was shifted into the network infrastructure by automating traditional command-line activities and reduces the time required to provision and deploy virtual or Cloud services from hours/days to seconds.

Additionally, the new breed NSV engines have been architected specifically for new dynamic Cloud operations and can drive these services without the scripts and templates that constrain traditional framework vendors.

OverDrive uses powerful abstracted network infrastructure models (services and topology) driven by policy to provide levels of automation and control the traditional framework solutions cannot match.



Cisco claims to offer Network Services Virtualization. Why would an IT organization use an NSV product from someone else?


At this point, while Cisco arguably leads the hardware industry as they advance towards NSV the other vendors (Juniper, HP, Brocade, Arista) all have similar initiatives. The signs of these advancements are clear upon reflection. In the past network services were tightly bound to the underlying device. Today we are beginning to see services such as VLANs and QoS that can tied to more abstracted artifacts such as ‘profiles’ and deployed across a wider range of physical devices and platforms. This allows for transience in the network fabric, as the profile is moved, the underling VLAN and QoS services are moved with the profile automatically.... all good stuff.

I will let the consumers make up their own minds and determine who they want to purchase hardware solutions from, but it is worth keeping in mind that the hardware vendors are still only taking the first rudimentary steps towards NSV - unbinding services from devices. What Cisco and the other hardware vendors have to decide is where to go next, and how much abstraction should they attempt provide.

Software based automation and orchestration engines, such as LineSider’s OverDrive NSV platform are much farther along the path towards NSV and have taken a broader approach. The OverDrive NSV engine actually abstracts the entire network infrastructure (services and topology) into a model that can be dynamically automated and controlled via policy. Discreet network services including layer-2, layer-3, security, QoS, DNS, DHCP and even the abstracted ‘profiles’ concept Cisco offers are included in this model and can be fully automated (deployed, moved, changed, removed) via the OverDrive NSV engine.

Cisco and others will soon realize it is not the only the process of unbinding the service from the device, but how discrete services are modeled and ultimately automated and orchestrated as collections of services, in order to build dynamic end-to-end service chains, that enables true NSV.



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