Invariably when new technology is introduced it causes an upheaval. When that technology has the power to change the way in which we architect networks and application infrastructure, it can be disruptive but beneficial. When that technology simultaneously requires that you abandon advances and best practices in architecture in order to realize those image benefits, that’s not acceptable.

Virtualization at the server level is disruptive, but in a good way. It forces organizations to reconsider the applications deployed in their data center, turn a critical eye toward the resources available and how they’re partitioned across applications, projects, and departments. It creates an environment in which the very make-up of the data center can be re-examined with the goal of making more efficient the network, storage, and application network infrastructure over which those applications are delivered.

Virtualization at the network, layer, is even more disruptive. From a network infrastructure perspective there are few changes required in the underlying infrastructure to support server virtualization because the application and its behavior doesn’t really change when moving from a physical deployment to a virtual one. But the network, ah, the network does require changes when it moves from a physical to a virtual form factor. The way in which scale and fault-tolerance and availability of the network infrastructure – from storage to application delivery network – is impacted by the simple change from physical to virtual. In some cases this impact is a positive one, in others, it’s not so positive. Understanding how to take advantage of virtual network appliances such that core network characteristics such as fault-tolerance, reliability, and security are not negatively impacted is one of the key factors in the successful adoption of virtual network technology.

Combining virtualization of “the data center network” with the deployment of applications in a public cloud computing environment brings to the fore the core issues of lack of control and visibility in externalized environments. While the benefits of public cloud computing are undeniable (though perhaps not nearly as world-shaking as some would have us believe) the   inclusion of externally controlled environments in the organization’s data center strategy will prove to have its challenges. image

Many of these challenges can be addressed thanks to the virtualization of the network (despite the lack of choice and dearth of services available in today’s cloud computing offerings).