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Cloud Computing: Article

The Next Technology Boom is Already Underway at Cisco, F5 Networks, Riverbed and VMware

Clouds, Virtualization and IT Diseconomies

In a 2.0 world servers are virtual and dynamic, and move around even more frequently than wireless laptops and phones. While the DHCP protocol can assign addresses dynamically - and lots of other configuration data too (like the address for critical infrastructure elements like the network gateway router, the DNS server, even device-specific configuration info, etc.), the pools of addresses handed out by DHCP have to be managed, and there are lots of reasons why admins need to know which device received a particular address - and applications need to able to reach devices by name (e.g. Windows host name) versus an IP address.

Perhaps it takes 30 minutes on average to find an address, allocate it, get a device configured, update the spreadsheet and update DNS. That was more manageable in a static world, though the increasing cost/IP to perform these tasks in larger networks is a direct consequence of manual systems breaking down in the face of scale. Now consider a 30 minute process for a device - or a virtual application instance - that changes IPs every few hours, or faster. When a 1.0 infrastructure meets 2.0 requirements, things start to break pretty quickly.

That is why, even with the simple act of managing an enterprise network's IP addresses, which is critical to the availability and proper functioning of the network, actually goes up as IP addresses are added. As TCP/IP continues to spread and take productivity to new heights, management costs are already escalating.

This is a very fundamental observation based on one of the most common network management tasks. You can assume that there are other slopes even steeper because of complexity and reliance upon manual labor.

Some enterprises are already paying even higher expenses per IP address, and chances are they don't even know it because these expenses are being hidden within network operations. Reducing headcounts risk increasing these costs further or making substantial sacrifices in network availability and flexibility.

IPAM as the Switchboard Metaphor

If something as simple and straightforward as IP address management doesn't scale, imagine the impacts of more complex network management tasks, like those involved with consolidation, compliance, security, and virtualization. There are probably many other opportunities for automation tucked away within many IT departments in the mesh between static infrastructure and moving, dynamic systems and endpoints.

This will force enterprise IT departments into similar discussions as those which likely took place decades ago within the Bell System when telecom executives looked at the dramatic increase in the use and distribution of telephones and mushrooming requirements for operators and switchboards and offices and salaries and benefits. One can only imagine the costs and challenges that we would face today if the basic connection decisions were still made by a human operator.

The counterpart to the switchboard of yesteryear for IPAM is the spreadsheet of today. Networking pros in most enterprises manage IP addresses using "freeware" that has an ugly underside; it produces escalating hidden expenses that are only now being recognized, mostly by large enterprises. Mix the growth of the network with new dynamic applications and new factors of mobility with a little human error and you have a recipe for availability, security and TCO issues.

Many of these switchboards can probably be bought or manufactured today for a song, yet it is the other costs (TCO and availability and flexibility) which make them cost-prohibitive.

Server Déjà vu

Another one of the TCO fables that are similarly bound to take the steam out of cloud fantasies has to do with hardware expenses. The cloudplex will utilize racks of commodity servers populated with VMs that can scale up as needed in order to save electricity and make IT more flexible. That makes incredibly good sense, but are we really there yet? No.

Servers have a very large manual labor component, according to an IDC Report hosted at Microsoft.com. The drumbeat for real estate and electricity savings may play well to the bigger picture buyer; yet perhaps the real payoff of virtualization is its potential to automate manual tasks, like creating and moving a server on demand.

Just how many organizations have launched virtualization initiatives only to find out that they didn't have the infrastructure to allow them to save electricity, real estate or people power? The network infrastructure simply wasn't intelligent enough to enable anything more than virtualization-lite, because the links between the infrastructure and the software were still manually constrained.

Yet one of the core promises of virtualization is to automate the deployment of server power. If this is constrained by infrastructure1.0 (as I'm suggesting) then VMware and its partners need to address the "static infrastructure meets dynamic processing power" challenge rapidly in order to achieve levels of growth once expected in 2007. With Microsoft now in the virtualization market thanks to Hyper-V, VMware's window of first mover advantage is starting to close.

Virtualization security now risks becoming a metaphor for other technology-related issues that could slow down the adoption of virtualization in the lucrative production data center market.

Netsec Wasn't Ready for Virtsec

The lack of network security connectivity intelligence meant that security policy, for example, would limit VMotion to within hardware-centric hypervisor VLANs. Network security infrastructure wasn't prepared for the challenges of protecting moving, state-changing servers, despite the promise of a stellar lineup of VMsafe partners.

The promise of virtualization that drove VMware's stock price into the clouds eventually met up with lowered growth expectations as deployments were impacted by the lack of connectivity intelligence that no doubt impacted other potential business cases for the unquestionable power of virtualization to someday unleash new economies of scale and computing power. These issues too will hit the cloud dream as they have also impacted other initiatives, albeit on a smaller and less visible scale.

Today there are plenty of new initiatives facing mounting pressures for connectivity intelligence and automation that have already left enterprise CIOs holding the bag for similar ecosystem finger-pointing. Whether or not we enter a global recession, these pressures will continue and likely worsen. They are artifacts of years of application, network and endpoint intelligence promises colliding with static TCP/IP infrastructure.

Saving money by cutting network operations or capital budgets is the equivalent of Ma Bell laying off operators or closing switchboards in the midst of unstoppable growth. Automation is the only way out, as Cisco's Chambers hinted recently.

More Stories By Greg Ness

Gregory Ness is the VP of Marketing of Vidder and has over 30 years of experience in marketing technology, B2B and consumer products and services. Prior to Vidder, he was VP of Marketing at cloud migration pioneer CloudVelox. Before CloudVelox he held marketing leadership positions at Vantage Data Centers, Infoblox (BLOX), BlueLane Technologies (VMW), Redline Networks (JNPR), IntruVert (INTC) and ShoreTel (SHOR). He has a BA from Reed College and an MA from The University of Texas at Austin. He has spoken on virtualization, networking, security and cloud computing topics at numerous conferences including CiscoLive, Interop and Future in Review.

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