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Bridging the Virtual Chasm

CIOs risk losing their hold on ICT resources, unless they automate routine network maintenance to free up time for strategic changes such as virtualization and datacenter consolidation says Dirk Marichal VP Infoblox EMEA.


Date: 23 Apr 2012

The number of virtual machines overtook the number of physical hosts for the first time between 2009 and 2010. And the number just keeps growing, with IDC predicting some 15 million VMs by 2013

While virtualization is top of the priorities and budget for most companies, some 70% feel that it has put greater pressure on the network. The old IT model based on separate silos for applications, storage, networking, security and processing was static and had a comfortable safety net based on over-provisioning at the infrastructure level. Virtual environments, in contrast, are lean and dynamic, with large numbers of IP addresses being continually allocated and recycled, together with changes in DNS beyond the limited scalability of manual operation. Virtualization may also need cooperation across teams, adding further pressures.

But how long does it take to add an IP address? The current manual operation might take 20 to 40 minutes per address, but what does that mean in practice, if you have 100’s to add? The question now becomes “how long must you allow for a busy technician with a backlog of other important jobs to find time for an additional thirty minute task?”

In a recent VMworld survey, 43% said it takes from hours to weeks to get an IP address. Note also that, although 46% did say that it could be done in seconds or minutes, they were typically those from smaller organizations, or large organizations that were early adopters of network change automation.

Network change automation

Why have so many of the large corporations already taken steps to automate their core network services?

During Q4 2011, Infoblox sponsored a survey of ICT publication readers, one business and one networking, who were working in organizations with at least five hundred employees. Among the key findings was concern about increased workload with new IT initiatives – a near 25% increase in technology adoption and subsequent workload was anticipated over the next year, while staffing levels were expected to increase by just 10%.

Among the new initiatives, virtualization, cloud computing and compliance all rank high on the IT priority list for the coming year. IPv6, while ranked lower in importance, is considered a top priority by twenty percent of Network World respondents. Respondents from both audiences cite limited staff (59%) and limited budget (58%) as top challenges facing their organizations in supporting these key initiatives, while 42% cite demand for increased applications and functionality.

Of particular concern was the low confidence in the ability of the network to support rapid change – especially among the business readership. Although this was also related to the surge in new connections to the network – including the influx of user’s personal devices, tablets and smartphones – it is especially relevant to the demands of virtualization and cloud computing.

While the majority of respondents were highly confident regarding the ability to maintain uptime (71% extreme/very high confidence) and meet compliance (62% extreme/very high confidence), there was less confidence in the ability of process workflow automation to keep pace with increasing change requests (38% extreme/very high confidence) and to quickly add new business applications for various departments to maintain a competitive edge (only 36% extreme/very high confidence).

In view of these concerns, it is ironic that so many other business functions have been automated in recent decades by being linked into the enterprise network – ranging from access control and safety alarm systems, through factory floor automation to accounting and compliance monitoring – and yet the network carrying all that growing burden of additional services and the IT department that is running it are still so often reliant on time-consuming manual processes.

The answer, for smart IT departments, has been to automate the underlying network fabric to remove the enormous daily burden of repetitive manual tasks and to reduce the human errors arising when intelligent and highly skilled staff are subjected to such monotonous labor. A surprisingly simple solution – simply requiring the addition of network control and automation devices into the network rather than any major infrastructure change – and yet it is something of a “best kept secret” in an industry that still so often relies on manual processes or simple off the shelf, bundled tools.

To show what a difference such automation makes, Figure 3 compares fully manual set up of a virtual machine against the benefits of automating core services combined with VMware automation, and finally the gains from full network change automation. It amounts to a reduction from 45 minutes to five.

The dynamic nature of a virtualized environment requires IP address management to be equally dynamic in order to keep pace with change and scale.

We have recently partnered with a company to provide an orchestrator that simplifies IP management in a virtualized environment by dynamically allocating and de-allocating IP addresses to virtual machines as they are spun-up and shut-down. This not only makes the network more responsive to virtualization, it also frees up valuable time so servers and network administrators can focus on tasks that are more critical to the operation of their business.

Steering through the cloud

There can be little doubt about the desirability of automating core network services and automating changes to the network systems so that those responsible for network management can spend less time head down in repetitive manual tasks, and have more time for major initiatives. And, the move to cloud computing, however, turns this into an imperative. Real time response to requests for cloud services can in no way be built on manual operations.

Lack of a suitably agile network infrastructure creates a chasm between early private cloud adopters – typically the largest global enterprises – and majority acceptance. This chasm can only be bridged by real time address and change automation between the virtual and physical worlds, and this need has driven our partnership with VMware.

End to end service delivery, controlled via a simple graphical user interface, is the objective. Some of the automation tools that will make this possible are already available and in use by thousands of enterprise networks around the world, such as the Infoblox Automation Taskboard. And don’t forget: such automation does not require any forklift network rebuild, because it is delivered via plug in boxes controlled from a central console.


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Tags: Server Virtualization, Storage Virtualization, I/O Virtualization, Network Virtualization, Desktop Virtualization, VMware, Hyper-V, Citrix, RedHat

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