Network Virtualization – The Missing Piece of Digital Transformation

The cloud revolution continues to impact IT, changing the way digital content is accessed and delivered. It should come as no surprise that this revolution has affected the way we approach modern networking.

When it comes down to it, the goal of digital transformation is the same for all organizations, regardless of industry: increase the speed at which you’re able to respond to market changes and evolving business requirements, improve your ability to adopt and adapt to new technology, and enhance overall security. Digital strategies are maturing, becoming more thoughtful and effective in the process, as organizations understand that the true value of cloud adoption and increased virtualization isn’t just about cost savings.

Technology is more fluid than ever, and dedicated hardware is limiting individual progress and development more and more every day. Luckily, cloud and virtualized infrastructure have helped lay the groundwork for change, giving companies the opportunity to more readily follow the flow of technological progress but, in the same way that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, these same companies are only as agile their most rigid component. And that rigid chokepoint, more often than not, is hardware-based network infrastructure.

A lack of network agility was even noted by Gartner as being one of the Top 10 Trends Impacting Infrastructure and Operations for 2019.

A Bit of History
We likely wouldn’t have the internet like we do today if not for the Department of Defense needing a way to connect large, costly research computers across long distances to enable the sharing of information and software. Early computers had no way to connect and transmit data to each other.
The birth of ARPANET in 1969, the world’s first packet-based network, and it’s ensuing expansion was monumental in creating the foundation for the Information Age.

The Case for Virtualization

While some arguments can still be made about whether a business might benefit more from traditional, hardware-based solutions or cloud-based options, there’s an inarguable fact right in front of us: software moves faster than hardware. This is what drove industries toward server and storage virtualization. However, network infrastructure still tends to be relegated to hardware, with the same manual provisioning and configuration processes that have been around for decades. The challenge of legacy, hardware-based network infrastructure is a clear obstacle that limits an organization’s ability to keep up with changing technologies and business requirements.

The negative effect of hardware-based networking goes beyond the limitation of speed and agility. Along with lengthy lead times, the process of scaling, modifying, or refreshing network infrastructure can require a significant amount of CapEx since you have to procure the hardware, and a significant amount of OpEx since you have to manually configure the newly acquired network devices. In addition, manual configuration is well-known to be error-prone, which can lead to connectivity issues (further increasing deployment lead time) and security compromises.

Networking at the Speed of Business and Innovation

As organizations move away from silos in favor of streamlined and automated orchestration, approaches to network implementation need to be refreshed. Typical data center network requests can take days, even weeks to fulfill since the hardware needs to be procured, configured (with engineers sometimes forced to individually and painstakingly configure each device), and then deployed.

Software-defined networking (SDN), however, changes all of that. With properly designed automation, right-sized virtual network devices can be programmatically created, provisioned, and configured within seconds. And due to the reduced (or even fully eliminated) need for manual intervention, it’s easier to ensure that that newly deployed devices are consistently and securely configured to meet business and compliance requirements.

Automation allows networking to match the pace of business by relying on standardized, pre‑defined templates to provide fast and consistent networking and security configurations. This lessens the strain and burden on your network engineers.

Network teams have focused hard on increasing availability, with great improvements. However for future success, the focus for 2019 and beyond must incorporate how network operations can be performed at a faster pace.

Source: Top 10 Trends Impacting Infrastructure & Operations for 2019, Gartner

Embracing Mobility

Modern IT is focused on applications, and the terminology and methods for implementing network appliances reflect that – but those applications are no longer tied to the physical data center. Sticking to a hardware-focused networking approach severely restricts the mobility of applications, which is a limitation that can kill innovation and progress.

Applications are not confined to a single, defined location and maturing digital and cloud strategies have led to organizations adopting multiple public and private clouds to achieve their business requirements. This had led to an increase in applications being designed to be “multi-cloud ready.” Creating an agile network infrastructure that extends beyond the on-premises locations, matching the mobility of those applications, is especially critical.

Network capabilities have to be able to bridge the gap from functioning consistently across all locations, whether they’re hardware-based legacy platforms, virtual private cloud environments, or pure public cloud environments.

This level of agility is beneficial for all organizations, even if they’re still heavily invested in hardware and data center space, because it allows them to begin exploring, adopting, and benefiting from public cloud use. Certain technologies, like VMware Cloud on AWS, already enable organizations to bridge that gap and begin reaping the benefits of Amazon’s public cloud, AWS.

According to the RightScale 2019 State of the Cloud Report from Flexera, 84% of enterprise organizations have adopted a multi-cloud strategy, and 58% have adopted a hybrid cloud strategy, utilizing both public and private clouds. On average, the respondents reported using nearly five clouds on average.

A Modern Approach to Security

Digital transformation creates fertile ground for new opportunities – both business opportunities and opportunities for bad actors. Since traditional approaches to cybersecurity weren’t designed for the cloud, cloud adoption and virtualization have contributed to a growing need to overhaul information security practices.

Traditional, classical network security models focused on the perimeter – traffic entering or leaving the data center – but, as a result of virtualization, the “perimeter” doesn’t exist anymore. Applications and data are distributed, so network security approaches have to focus on the applications themselves. With network virtualization, security services are elevated to the virtual layer, allowing security policies to “follow” applications, maintaining a consistent security configuration to protect the elastic attack surface.

But whether your network remains rooted in hardware or becomes virtualized, the core of your security should still be based on this: Security must be an integral part of your business requirements and infrastructure. It simply cannot be bolted on anymore.

Picking the Right Tools and Technology for the Job

Choosing the right tools and technology to facilitate hybrid deployments and enable multi‑platform solutions can help bridge the gap between legacy systems and 21st century IT.  This level of interoperability and agility help make cloud adoption just a little less challenging.

Addressing the networking challenges discussed in this post, VMware Cloud on AWS has an impressive set of tools that enable and simplify connectivity between traditionally hosted on-premises environments and the public cloud. This interconnectivity makes VMware Cloud on AWS an optimal choice for a number of different deployment use cases, including data center evacuations, extending on-premises environments to the public cloud, and improving disaster recovery capabilities.

Developed in partnership with Amazon, VMware Cloud on AWS allows customers to run VMware workloads in the cloud, and their Hybrid Cloud Extension (HCX) enables large-scale, bi-directional connections between on-premises environments and the VMware Cloud on AWS environment. In addition, VMware’s Site Recovery Manager provides simplified one-click disaster recovery operations with policy-based replication, ensuring operational consistency.

If you’re interested in learning more about VMware Cloud on AWS or how we can help you use the platform to meet your business goals, check out our migration and security services for VMware Cloud on AWS.

Ryan Boyce is the Director of Network Engineering at Effectual, Inc.