A quiet yet fierce debate is starting to roil the networking community. It centers around the amount of potential sprawl network virtualization (NV) might spawn across the enterprise.
While no one is exactly thrilled with the rigid nature of physical networks, the fact that they are difficult to stand up does act as a sort of governor in terms of the number of network connections an organization might need to manage. In much the same way that server virtualization created a level of abstraction that made virtual machine sprawl an issue in the data center, there is a concern that all the microsegmentation that NV software enables will create a similar level of sprawl across the network.
Where Does NV Sprawl Come From?
A big part of the concern about network sprawl stems from the fact that rather than having to employ a traditional network administrator to stand up a virtual network, many of the virtual network connections will be created by developers that won’t necessarily care what impact those connections will have on the overall network infrastructure environment.
It’s still early days in terms of determining the ultimate impact NV sprawl might have. Most of the current use cases for NV software are being driven by isolated instances involving such things as better security. But as IT organizations of all sizes increasingly appreciate the agility that NV software injects into their IT environments, it’s quite conceivable that NV and microsegmentation could easily become too much of good thing.
“It’s a fierce debate in some segments of the networking world,” says Tom Burns, vice president and general manager for Dell Networking and Enterprise Infrastructure. “But we’re not seeing the impact yet because NV is not being adopted at the same rate server virtualization was.”
What is clear is that most of the adoption of NV software, according to Burns, is being driven either by IT security teams or DevOps organizations attempting to modernize the entire IT environment. In the latter case the network virtualization software winds up arriving inside a converged or hyperconverged system, he says.
How to Manage NV Sprawl
In general, Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, says there’s not enough mainstream adoption of NV software yet to fully comprehend its impact on IT operations. But he concurs that much of the enthusiasm for NV is coming from virtualization administrators extending their domain in the realm of networking, rather than from traditional network administrators. Driving that expansion of roles is a need to keep pace with new application releases that are coming faster than ever, thanks to the rise of various forms of agile application development.
“The rigid walls between servers, storage, and networking are starting to come down,” says King.
Of course, an ounce of NV management prevention might go a long way to preventing NV sprawl. There are tools available to manage NV deployments. The challenge facing network administrators is finding a way to implement those policies in a way that doesn’t wind up getting in the way of developers demanding more agile IT environments that can dynamically respond to their ever-changing requirements.
In the meantime, it’s already clear that some form of network virtualization is going to be adopted inside the majority of IT environments. The only real question is to what degree NV is an opportunity to advance the career of a network administrator – or something bad that happened to a once promising career.