If partners have found it hard to convince customers to buy into core network services such as automated domain name resolution (DNS), IP address assignment and IP address management (IPAM), vendors are hoping virtualization will change that story.
That's because virtualization -- and the oodles of IP addresses and network components it can spawn at will -- is already causing management issues.
For many years, the enterprise did not take core network services seriously, and many companies assigned and managed their IP addresses using little more than an Excel spreadsheet or a hodgepodge of homegrown applications sitting throughout the network. That left channel partners proverbially banging their heads against a wall.
That began to change with the proliferation of devices connected to the IP network as a result of VoIP and other applications like mobile tracking.
"We've had an explosive couple of years of new technologies deployed in enterprises. Beyond VoIP, you have three quarters of a company carrying BlackBerrys. The number of IP addresses in those companies has skyrocketed," said Lisa Citron, director of Americas Channels at BlueCat Networks, a core network services applications vendor. "The average office that had one IP address can go to two or three overnight, not to mention their BlackBerrys."
But even with that expansion, there are still holdouts. Some partners say they have customers managing more than 2,000 IP addresses manually -- and they are still not willing to buy into an automated system.
"Well over 50% of enterprises are still using spreadsheets," said Richard Kagan, vice president of marketing at Infoblox, also a core network services application provider.
But Kagan expects virtualization in the data center and beyond to turn that number around. When DNS or DHCP is being managed with spreadsheets and manual work in the dynamic data center environment, "there's something really broken," he said.
"We're working with partners and customers and other vendors on really understanding what is necessary to support virtualization," Kagan said. "We already have some capabilities that support virtualization."
One obvious issue is the rate at which addresses can be manufactured in a virtual environment.
"It used to be that you could uniquely identify an instance of a particular application through DNS by binding it to its IP address," Kagan said. "MAC addresses don't mean anything anymore. It used to be a physical thing, but now when VMware needs to generate a new server, they make a MAC address up, so you can't trust it to mean anything.… If you don't have a system that automatically relates those pieces of information, that's some kind of manual process."
So Infoblox set out to address the issue.
"Our system has always had the concept of a host object (tracking) all of these pieces of information. If it turns out you have to track through the host, you can do it as easily as through the MAC address," Kagan said.
Others pushing core network services say it will also be the move to IPv6 that will force the core network services issue.
"Everybody is running out of private IP space as they are looking at network refreshes," said John Harris, network solutions practice manager at BlueCat partner AE Business Solutions in Milwaukee.
IPv6 addresses are much longer than current IP addresses, making manual management even more difficult.
"Needing an IP address management solution [that addresses IPv6] is not something they're looking to in 18 months, it's something they need in the next two quarters," Harris said. "The complexity of the spreadsheet exponentially increases, particularly when every next-gen device is potentially asking for multiple IP addresses."
To push the market forward, Infoblox is targeting the branch office through a new partnership with Cisco Systems that will place Infoblox's applications -- including IPAM, DNS and DHCP -- onto blades in the Cisco integrated services routers (ISRs). This will nix the need for extra servers sitting out at branch offices and will place the services closer to home, as well as within the core of the network.
"There is some validation that goes along with being with Cisco that is of great value to us," said Win Farnsworth, president of Infoblox partner ISC in Wyoming. "It helps that we can sell into the millions of ISRs that are out there at this point." Farnsworth added that he would continue to sell Infoblox's standalone core network services appliance.
BlueCat's Citron said that the company is also in talks with major vendors to add its services into existing network components to limit server and appliance sprawl. But she said the company wants to be sure it doesn't lose important management features that can get lost in a bundling situation. For Citron, address management and assignment is about more than enabling users at a branch office to hook onto the Internet. It's about network modeling, error checking and dynamic high availability.
"With these advances in Voice over IP initiatives that the partner has been helping the end user with, now they are able to go back in with IP address management and ensure the advance of the technology they just put in," she said.
As for how to approach customers with a service that hasn't been seen as crucial in a bad economy, Citron said partners have to show enterprises that this is now a "keep-the-lights-on technology."
"I can't think of a single vertical market that doesn't need this," she said. "It's not just banking. You look at hospital systems or seniors facilities. Every patient-monitoring device is now an IP device [that reports back to the nurse's desk]."