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Tech Watch Analysis: Network virtualization eases network management

Network virtualization enables VARs to manage multiple physical components in the network as one easy-to-handle virtual device.

The emergence of network virtualization will eventually force VARs and integrators to rethink the rules of fundamental network design, but it will also provide countless benefits when it comes to network management and marrying business agendas to network resources.

Network virtualization is a process of abstraction that separates logical network behavior from the underlying physical network resources. It allows network aggregation and provisioning, combining different physical networks into a single virtual network, or breaking a physical network into multiple virtual networks that are isolated from one another.

In a typical physical network, all physical components must be managed as discrete devices, but virtualization enables the management of multiple physical switches by binding them together as one virtual switch.

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That results in space and power efficiency.

For one thing, solution providers say network virtualization enables them to reduce network cabling, allowing them to use just two physical switches, for example, where previously they might have needed to have 24 to 48 switches per rack row.

Presidio Networked Solutions, a VAR and managed services company based in Greenbelt, Md., was able to save one customer $250,000 in cabling costs by redesigning its data center to use existing space and applying network virtualization technology in some places, said Thomas Lee, managing consultant for the mid-Atlantic region with Presidio.

"We've been designing networks for a long time," Lee said. "A lot of these virtualization concepts bend the rules."

The ability to spark up virtual machines or combine resources in a virtualized network also makes network management and design a much simpler task. For one, network virtualization improves a company's ability to introduce and test new applications and resources, such as a firewall or other security measure, without requiring the company to invest in a new piece of hardware, said Scott Miller, president and cofounder of Server Centric, a virtualization VAR that sells network application traffic offerings from Zeus Technology.

"Once network engineers understand the concepts, they are figuring it out pretty quickly," Miller said.

VARs can also provide customers that are considering network virtualization with an assessment that maps business applications to specific data center resources, according to Tim LaFazia, CEO of Infrastructure Development , a data center services company based in San Diego.

"Many companies are creating the technology to offer the dynamic data center," LaFazia said. "But what we're lacking is an organized and scientific methodology and vehicle to actually identify how to adjust to that dynamic environment."

While server virtualization is experiencing steady market uptake, network virtualization is still in its infancy. In fact, it's likely to be another three to five years before it becomes a mainstream consideration in network design. In the meantime, even if customers are not yet ready to accommodate network virtualization, Lee advises understanding which switches support it and which don't. "VARs can be prepared," he said, "by making sure they don't put in switches that don't support this."

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