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What's driving creation of Virtual Micro Networks

The onset and growing need for these types of networks changes the data center networking market, says analyst Jon Oltsik.

My networking-savvy colleague Bob Laliberte and I just got back from Interop in New York City. While at the show, we met with a number of leading networking vendors to discuss trends in the data center. Why the data center focus? Between data center consolidation, server virtualization, Web 2.0 applications, the convergence of storage and data, and power/cooling concerns, data center networks are rapidly changing.

Aside from these macro trends, there is something else going on. In connecting specific applications/services to specific users and groups, high-bandwidth data center networks are actually made up of numerous subsegments that ESG calls Virtual Micro Networks (VMNs).

The VMN concept goes well beyond Virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs). Like VLANs or any other network, VMNs transport data from source to destination. But VMNs extend beyond transport to consider security, location, users, and applications. VMNs address:

  1. Who wants the information? VMNs can adjust for device type, network location, and the identity and role of the person on the other end of the pipe.

  2. What is the information? VMNs also must be aware of traffic type. For example, voice, video, and storage traffic is extremely latency-sensitive while HTTP traffic is not. Additionally, some network traffic may contain confidential information that should be encrypted or even blocked.

  3. What are the specific characteristics of the information? Network-based applications may be made up of numerous services that come together at the user browser. How they get there isn't always straightforward, thus the rise of vendors like Citrix NetScaler and F5 Networks. This is also where security comes into play as certain traffic may be especially sensitive, suspicious, or susceptible.

  4. Where is the information? The answer to this question used to be a physical server or storage device but application switching and server/storage virtualization makes this more dynamic and complex.

Yes, I know that these aren't new issues, but a combination of massive latency-sensitive unpredictable traffic, sophisticated security threats, dynamically changing data center hardware, and network-centric applications are driving the creation of VMNs and making things a heck of a lot more complex.

To me, the onset and growing need for VMNs changes the data center networking market. Users will want to work with vendors who understand these requirements and can offer the whole enchilada: fast dense switches, security, application services, etc. This helps the big guys and means that little guys must partner effectively. VMNs also demand extremely flexible management tools that can help users change on a dime, automate manual tasks, and audit everything.

I see the future but am sure glad that all I have to do is understand and write about it rather than develop or implement it.

Jon Oltsik is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.