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Tech Industry

Networking virtual servers: A long way to go

Not to be a party pooper, but it seems a lot of the industry talk about cloud computing and server virtualization is glossing over some very real obstacles.

The tech industry is gaga over server virtualization and cloud computing. It seems like every vendor I speak with describes massive data centers connected to third-party clouds anchored by huge numbers of physical and virtual devices.

Sounds pretty cool, but I wonder how all of these physical and virtual distributed systems will be networked together? This is where reality becomes an ugly guest at the industry virtualization/cloud party.

When you look at how users are connecting physical and virtual servers and networks today, here is what you find:

  1. Network design remains extremely simple. Typically, physical servers run 5 to 10 virtual servers. These virtual servers talk to each other through a virtual switch and talk to the rest of the world through a simple connection to a basic Ethernet switch. In truth, VMware ESX offers far more sophisticated networking capabilities, but since most virtualization projects are really focused on consolidating Windows workloads on a reduced number of physical servers, simple connectivity is good enough.

  2. Skills are limited. So if you wanted to design a sophisticated network composed of virtual and physical devices with added functionality for security, performance, and high availability, who the heck do you call? Beats me. It seems to me that these skills will be in high demand and some organization will create a certification program down the line. But these future developments won't help today.

  3. Tools are immature. OK, so what happens when the performance of a particular virtual server becomes a problem. How do you troubleshoot this? When virtual systems share physical resources, you better have tools that understand this relationship. Lots of companies claim that they have this problem licked, but users still tell me that they continue "flying blind" in these situations.

I haven't even mentioned security, which is another complex problem that the industry is glossing over.

Ultimately, we as an industry have little idea what will happen when you start networking massive numbers of physical and virtual devices together in a single data center, let alone a public network for connection to some type of cloud. We thought we could consolidate applications and serve them up over the WAN. Turns out we needed to develop dedicated technology called WAN optimization to get this right. I guarantee we will find numerous similar pitfalls.

Forgive me for being a cynic, but every time I get my head in the clouds, IT professionals, ESG Research data, and my virtualization-savvy colleague Mark Bowker throw a virtual bucket of cold water in my face. I am simply passing along the favor.