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One of the biggest challenges with enterprise networking is that provisioning the network is a slow, cumbersome process that results in IT departments being much less agile than anyone wants. Network virtualization (NV) has the potential to solve that issue by interjecting software between applications and the underlying physical network, which makes managing the overall network simpler.
But before any of those benefits can be realized, the underlying network needs to be modeled. More challenging still, any changes to underlying physical network need to be reflected in the NV overlay. Accomplishing both those goals means NV overlays will need to be tightly coupled with a range of IT automation frameworks that promise to maintain all the complex interdependencies that make up an IT environment without any manual effort required.
One of the best examples of the level of integration required can be found in the way NSX NV software from VMware interacts with company’s vRealize IT automation software. Via a vRealize software catalog, IT administrators automate the provisioning of NSX across multiple types of network configurations in a way that doesn’t require the IT administrator to have a lot of networking expertise. That same IT automation platform can be invoked to set up NV overlays in both a traditional VMware environment as well as the light-weight Photon Platform VMware has created for running cloud-native applications based on containers.
But that’s only the beginning of what promises to be a swath of IT automation tools capable of provisioning NV software. Case in point is Brocade’s Workflow Composer Automation Suites. This IT automation software is able to automatically provision IT infrastructure from Brocade and can be extended via application programming interfaces (APIs) to automatically provision third-party hardware and software.
“It’s not included in the suite itself,” says Nabil Bukhari, vice president of product management for data center switching, routing, and automation for Brocade. “But it can interact with VMware via standard APIs.”
The only question going forward is to what degree IT organizations will want to rely on IT automation frameworks that will undoubtedly be developed by providers of NV software vs. the general purpose IT automation framework that is being used to manage an entire software-defined data center (SDDC).
Automation’s Impact on IT
The rise of IT automation frameworks will also force companies to rethink who in the IT organization will ultimately be responsible for networking. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that IT generalists will be able to provision networking resources without requiring any direct intervention on the part of a networking specialist. That should result in a much more rapid proliferation of NV software across the enterprise.
Shawn Powers, an IT trainer for CBT Nuggets, a provider of online training courses, says that a level of automation is a good thing because it makes networking environments more responsive to the needs of the business. But Powers also cautions that IT organizations will still need experts that understand how the physical network underlay and NV overlays really work.
“Automation is going to happen,” says Powers. “But someone in the IT organization still needs to know what’s occurring in case they need to fix it.”
Given the current state of enterprise networks, that requirement is likely to be around for some time to come indeed.