The virtualization fairy won’t create APIs out of thin air, but a visit from her may kick-start a necessary (re)evaluation of the role of the API in the new network.

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The way some people talk about the “virtualization of the network” and how it’s necessary for cloud computing and automation and creating a flexible infrastructure you’d think that the transformation from physical form factor to virtual form factor was a magical one that conferred not only the ability scale on-demand but the APIs, as well.

There are actual two misconceptions here that need correcting and you know me - I’m going to correct them. First seems to be the erroneous belief that in order to fit into a dynamic data center a network infrastructure component must be virtualized. The thought here seems to revolve around a belief that only by becoming a virtual network appliance (VNA) can a hardware component suddenly be imbued with the control plane, the API, required to be automated and orchestrated in a dynamic, on-demand way. In other words, to have its capabilities delivered as a service.

Not true at all. Many network infrastructure components have been control-plane enabled for years, since 2001 or so, in fact. These control-planes are standards-based, almost always leveraging HTTP and SOAP or POX (Plain Old XML), and provide the means by which these components have been integrated into third-party management applications for many, many years. That management API, the control plane, is what confers flexibility, programmability, and integration with the rest of the infrastructure and management systems that ultimately enable a dynamic data center. 

Second is what seems to be the belief that the transformation from physical to virtual somehow births an API that did not before exist. That’s simply not true. While moving from one form factor to another inherently allows management at the container level, i.e. of the virtual machine, it does not magically confer the ability to manage what’s running inside the container, i.e. the actual networking component.

That requires an API of some kind, whether that’s SOAP or REST or whatever. If the API didn’t exist before “virtualization” there is no guarantee it will suddenly exist after the process of virtualization is complete. Sometimes the process of virtualization seems to result in an API. That’s not because of the process, it’s because (a) the organization realizes that be a part of the new infrastructure an API is going to be required and (b) as long as they’re mucking around in the code-base to virtualization the solution it’s a really good time to add an API.

It’s more a matter of “well, we’re in here anyway…let’s just do it” than anything else. This isn’t a “cause –> effect” chain but more a coincidence, albeit perhaps a logical and financially smart one. If the API existed before the virtualization-fairy showed up, well, it’s almost certainly still going to be there after it’s virtualized.