For enterprises looking to build their own cloud architectures, expanding network capacity is only a first step.
Once you've built 10 gigabyte Ethernet (GbE) infrastructure -- the minimum needed to comfortably support both virtualization and cloud computing -- the far trickier job is to implement the kind of flexibility needed to support the broad range of applications and services that users are demanding.
That means not only will your network have to handle an exponentially larger number of data pathways than ever before, but it will have to scale those network connections on the fly as operating environments are created and disabled on a regular basis.
Naturally, none of this can happen without a good deal of software support. But whether it goes by the name of virtual networking or plain old network management, the fact is that much of the dynamism that will characterize enterprise networking in the future will come from adding multiple layers of abstraction between hardware resources and data loads.
When it comes to scaling network capacity, however, not all approaches achieve the same results. Some applications require a scaled up approach, in which a single device is directed to increase throughput, while others may require scale out, where loads are shared across multiple resources.
Citrix's new NetScaler 10 release hopes to meet all these needs with the new TriScale system that delivers not only scale up and scale out, but "scale in" as well for organizations looking to consolidate resources into more streamlined architectures. The company says it can boost throughput five-fold and produce a 30x increase in capacity, all while delivering advanced functions like real-time monitoring and analytics and virtual desktop support.
Software is only as affective as the hardware allows it to be, of course, so it's no surprise that the most recent releases take advantage of the most advanced processors. Vyatta's new vPlane platform, for example, leverages the fast-path architecture available on the new Intel Westmere design to deliver more than 8 million packets per second (pps) per core; a 10-fold improvement over previous iterations of the software. Through linear scaling, a single rack unit can move more than 35 million pps, pushing application density and multi-tenancy capabilities far beyond traditional Layer 3 solutions.
At what point, though, do we make the jump from simple application and workload management to full virtual networking? A company called Nicira says it has successfully separated networking from underlying infrastructure in much the same way that virtual machines have become independent of server hardware.
The company's Network Virtualization Platform utilizes an intelligent abstraction layer between end hosts that is overseen by a distributed network controller architecture capable of generating literally thousands of independent virtual networks that can be isolated or pooled according to user needs. The platform has drawn the attention of Rackspace and other cloud providers looking to leverage existing infrastructure for multiple clients.
Surprisingly, VMware seems to be avoiding the topic of virtual networking in favor of the more specialized "software defined networking" (SDN) moniker. The company is backing the Open Networking Research Center in its quest to decouple network control from physical hardware, which would move packet routing and other functions to a virtual layer.
As long as a solution provides the answer to critical problems, it shouldn't matter whether it is built around a physical, virtual, logical or any other approach. The name of the game is getting static networks ready for the cloud, and that will only happen once long standing architectures are retrofitted to match the freewheeling style of emerging data environments.
The physical layer provides the foundation, but the real magic happens in software.
Arthur Cole covers networking and the data center for IT Business Edge. He has served as editor of numerous publications covering everything from audio/video production and distribution, multimedia and the Internet to video gaming.