Cisco Makes Hardware-Free Switches a Virtualized Reality

Cisco and VMware announced Wednesday a collaboration that will bring businesses greater scalability and operational control of virtual environments in their data centers. The initial fruit of the two companies’ combined efforts will be the integration of the Cisco Nexus 1000V distributed virtual software switch into the VMware infrastructure.

The collaboration also means that both Cisco and VMware will lend their respective expertise in networking and virtualization to launch a new set of multidisciplinary professional services and reseller certification training that supports customers’ data center virtualization strategies.

To that end, Cisco and VMware will also work together on integrating VMware Virtual Desktop Infrastructure solutions within Cisco’s Application Deliver Networking solutions. Doing so, the two companies said, will serve to improve the performance of virtual desktops delivered across wide-area networks (WANs).

“This is a significant advancement in helping customers virtualize their data centers, because now virtual machines can have the very same advanced networking capabilities as physical servers,” said Paul Fazzone, product marketing manager, Server Access and Virtualization Business Unit at Cisco.

“Networking capabilities such as QoS (quality of service) and security can be applied through policies for each individual virtual machine,” he added.

Flipping the Switch

Although VMware’s ESX operating system includes its vSwitch technology, which provides some networking capabilities, it is only provided for the host. It does not provide networking functionality for each virtualized machine. That’s where the collaboration with Cisco comes into play.

The two-year partnership on networking and engineering research and development enabled Cisco to offer the networking capabilities of a physical Cisco switch in the form of a pure software product.

The Cisco Nexus 1000V is the industry’s first third-party virtual switch designed to be natively supported in a VMware ESX environment. It is also the first third-party software switch developed for VMware’s new distributed virtual networking and distributed switch environment.

The virtual switch technology should simplify the operation of both physical and virtual networking infrastructures to aid server, virtualization and networking administration managers speed up data center virtualization.

As virtualization in general alters the dynamics of physical networking, server virtualization, for instance, is increasing port bandwidth requirements. That’s led the industry to move from 1GE to 10GE ports.

Embedded within the VMware hypervisor, the Nexus 1000V makes available correlated services, securities and everything else the network provides for each virtual machine. If a machine moves, all of the policies that have been set up for that machine will move with it.

The Virtual Network Link technology will integrate with WMware’s vNetwork Distributed Switch framework and enable IT administrators to set and enforce connection policies for each virtual machine in the data center.

“In effect, Cisco is virtualizing the link between the network and the virtual machine to enable customers to benefit from a richer set of network services, faster VM deployment and improved operational consistency,” Fazzone told TechNewsWorld.

Virtual Switching

“Virtualization is changing the way companies deploy and manage hardware,” Robert Whiteley, a Forrester Research analyst, told TechNewsWorld. “It was originally justified for the cost savings that server consolidation afforded, but it has quickly spread to creating a dynamic foundation for the datacenter.”

Flexibility and business continuity are the principal driving forces behind most virtualization projects. The problem, however, is that the network has been by and large divorced from this trend.

“Ask any server or virtualization admin running a large project and he’ll quickly tell you that the network becomes a critical bottleneck. It has performance, visibility and security gaps,” Whiteley explained.

Virtualization essentially creates a gap — networking teams are managing both the physical network and the virtual network, but the virtual one does not have adequate control and tools, he continued.

Cisco’s new Nexus 1000V virtual switch is intended to change that. It provides the technology and management that network admins traditionally interface with, and it proposes the standards to ensure this integrates with the workflow and management that surrounds virtual infrastructure, Whiteley continued.

Organizations now have the choice to select the built-in virtual switch from VMware or the more sophisticated and feature-rich product from Cisco, he said.

“To provide some perspective, I think the product and its corresponding VN-Link proposed standard will fundamentally reshape data center networking. I think they’ll be as important as the VLAN was to networking and the VSAN standards are to storage,” he concluded.

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