The Growing Importance of Network Virtualization

The Growing Importance of Network Virtualization

We often focus on server virtualization when we discuss cloud computing, but just as often we neglect to consider some of the critical implications of that technology. The ability to create virtual environments (or VEs [1]) means that we can create, destroy, activate and deactivate, and more importantly, MOVE them around within the cloud infrastructure. This elasticity and mobility has profound implications for how network services are defined, managed, and used to provide cloud services. It's not just servers that benefit from virtualization, it's the network as well.

Network virtualization is becoming a hot topic, and not just for discussion but for companies like Oracle and others who have recently acquired net virtualization companies [2,3]. But even before this topic became so prominent, Solaris engineers were working on technologies in Solaris 11 to virtualize network services, known as Project Crossbow [4].

And why is network virtualization so important? Because old assumptions about network devices, topology, and management must be re-examined in light of the self-service, elasticity, and resource sharing requirements of cloud computing infrastructures. Static, hierarchical network designs, and inter-system traffic flows, need to be reconsidered and quite likely re-architected to take advantage of new features like virtual NICs and switches, bandwidth control, load balancing, and traffic isolation. For example, traditional multi-tier Web services (Web server, App server, DB server) that share net traffic over Ethernet wires can now be virtualized and hosted on shared-resource systems that communicate within a larger server at system bus speeds, increasing performance and reducing wired network traffic. And virtualized traffic flows can be monitored and adjusted as needed to optimize network performance for dynamically changing cloud workloads. Additionally, as VEs come and go and move around in the cloud, static network configuration methods cannot easily accommodate the routing and addressing flexibility that VE mobility implies; virtualizing the network itself is a requirement.

Oracle Solaris 11 [5] includes key network virtualization technologies needed to implement cloud computing infrastructures. It includes features for the creation and management of virtual NICs and switches, and for the allocation and control of the traffic flows among VEs [6]. Additionally it allows for both sharing and dedication of hardware components to network tasks, such as allocating specific CPUs and vNICs to VEs, and even protocol-specific management of traffic.

So, have a look at your current network topology and management practices in view of evolving cloud computing technologies. And don't simply duplicate the physical architecture of servers and connections in a virtualized environment…rethink the traffic flows among VEs and how they can be optimized using Oracle Solaris 11 and other Oracle products and services.

[1] I use the term "virtual environment" or VE here instead of the more commonly used "virtual machine" or VM, because not all virtualized operating system environments are full OS kernels under the control of a hypervisor…in other words, not all VEs are VMs. In particular, VEs include Oracle Solaris zones, as well as SPARC VMs (previously called LDoms), and x86-based Solaris and Linux VMs running under hypervisors such as OEL, Xen, KVM, or VMware.

[2] Oracle follows VMware into network virtualization space with Xsigo purchase; http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_21191001/oracle-follows-vmware-into-network-virtualization-space-xsigo

[3] Oracle Buys Xsigo; http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/press/1721421

[4] Oracle Solaris 11 Networking Virtualization Technology, http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/server-storage/solaris11/technologies/networkvirtualization-312278.html

[5] Oracle Solaris 11; http://www.oracle.com/us/products/servers-storage/solaris/solaris11/overview/index.html

[6] For example, the Solaris 11 'dladm' command can be used to limit the bandwidth of a virtual NIC, as follows: dladm create-vnic -l net0 -p maxbw=100M vnic0

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The purpose of this blog is to highlight and to explore general issues around "Cloud Computing" -- its benefits, risks, and component technologies -- and how they are evolving. I'll also periodically comment (of course!) on Oracle's Cloud Computing capabilities, resources, and cloud-related events. -- Harry J Foxwell, PhD, Principal Consultant for Cloud Computing, Oracle Public Sector HW

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