Networking Your Way to a Datacenter in the Cloud

As the dream of the fully virtualized data center comes closer to reality, the race is on to integrate SDN into the cloud stack.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Feb 6, 2015
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From the very start, the goal of cloud enthusiasts has been to host a top-to-bottom, end-to-end data environment on virtual, distributed infrastructure. For a while, the sticking point in this plan was networking, but with SDN ready to hit the mainstream, the ideal of a fully virtualized datacenter can finally be realized.

As can be expected, the IT vendor community is extremely eager to rush new virtual infrastructure platforms to market. At the same time, however, there is a lot of anxiety as to how this will impact long-standing, lucrative business models.

According to U.K. researcher Companies and Markets, an expanding cloud is expected to spur the growth of network fabric topologies as top organizations look to build key functions like continuous data availability, application flexibility and rapid architecture deployment. As well, fabrics are less expensive to deploy and manage than traditional network architectures, not to mention more scalable and dynamic.

Small wonder, then, that anyone and everyone who is interested in developing a broad cloud platform has turned their attention to networking in recent days. VMware, for example, issued the new vSphere 6 platform with hefty upgrades to the NSX 6 networking component, which itself is built on the SDN capabilities originally developed by Nicira. The company is offering NSX as a companion module for vSphere or as a service from the vCloud Air platform, but both versions allow for the rapid creation of thousands of virtual LANs on streamlined architectures, which can then be scaled across thousands of nodes on public, private or hybrid clouds. NSX also supports Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) and other measures to enhance security and traffic isolation, as well as Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) routing to foster integration with legacy environments.

Meanwhile, management firms like Infoblox are upping their automation capabilities to provide the kind of hands-off control the enterprise needs when fielding complex, scale-out architectures. The company’s Cloud Network Automation platform offers tools like DNS, DHCP and IP address management that enable visibility down to the VM layer and real-time management of resource consumption, application performance and other key metrics. The system also scales from initial pilot deployments to production and multi-platform distribution, so core network services can be managed from a single platform throughout the entire lifecycle.

And from F5, the newest version of the BIG-IQ platform features centralized application delivery and role-based access control (RBAC) designed to tighten the bonds between dev/ops and network operations. The goal is to improve workflow and boost efficiency by eliminating much of the redundancy that currently clouds (sorry) the application delivery process at most organizations. At the same time, BIG-IQ acts as a single management solution for Cisco, VMware, Microsoft and OpenStack, utilizing RESTful APIs to oversee the company’s own traffic, firewall and security devices.

To say that networking is the key to the cloud-based datacenter is something of a misnomer – server and storage resources are just as important to data performance regardless of the underlying infrastructure. But networking was the last to join the virtual party, so whoever integrates SDN most effectively into the overall cloud stack will likely emerge as top dog once the virtual/cloud transition has run its course.

It is important to note, however, they we are still very early in the game, and the real efficacy of any solution cannot be fully gauged until it is subjected to real-world production loads.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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