How Long Before Virtualization Teams Control Network Decisions?

As virtualization and cloud technologies become more pervasive in enterprise data centers, it has become clear that the network needs to change to better enable the business. For years large complex environments have struggled to overcome lengthy network and network services provisioning times. Software-defined networks (including network virtualization) have become a beacon of hope to enable organizations to overcome these issues with legacy networks and become an active enabler for modern data center environments.

These changes have resulted in new roles being created and a shift in power, especially in the server domain. It is really interesting then to investigate what may be the start of another shift in power, one in the network space. In a recent ESG survey we asked respondents to indicate which groups had the most influence on network decisions – other than the network team. Today, far and away the most influence is exerted by the IT architecture and planning teams (46%). This was followed by respondents who answered that the network team alone has complete control (23%). However, what is really interesting to me is that the third most popular response was the virtualization team (11%). While one data point doesn’t make a trend, we have also been hearing anecdotal evidence that the virtualization team is having a greater influence on network and other IT decisions.

Why is this important? Well, if the virtualization teams are playing larger roles in deciding where to spend networking budget, then:

  1. Network admins need to think about how they can proactively involve the virtualization team and collaborate with them on projects. This is especially true for organizations with large virtualization deployments (with virtual switches from the virtualization vendor) and/or organizations currently investigating network virtualization solutions. It will be critical to ensure cooperation and communication with both team in these environments as the network virtualization solution is highly dependent on the physical network. Also, being proactive will help drive integration and cooperation between the domains which will be critical for ongoing operations. If you are already actively engaged, congratulations, you are ahead of the pack.
  2. You’ll begin to see vendors like Arista, Brocade, Cisco, Dell, Extreme, HP, IBM*, Juniper* and Plexxi who have traditionally sold to the network team, starting to message and demonstrate their value to the virtualization team. For some, this value expansion may also include the application teams**. Theoretically, this should be easier for those vendors that have business units already selling into the server and virtualization teams or that have partnered with a virtualization company. However, in reality, it may be much easier said than done.
  3. 800 pound virtualization gorillas like VMware and Microsoft that have virtual switch deployments and now network virtualization solutions (NSX and HyperV Network Virtualization) will leverage existing relationships to encourage this influence as well as gain access to the network teams. That said, key innovative startups in the network virtualization space like Midokura, NetSocket, Nuage, and PlumGrid will also have the potential to help organizations bridge the gap between virtualization and network domains.

Ultimately, as organizations continue to transform IT environments, it will result in not only new technologies, but also new roles and responsibilities. We have already seen how this plays out in the server domain. Now it appears we may be seeing the beginning of another transition in power, only time will tell. Moving forward network teams will have the opportunity to embrace this change and evolve their role in the company or ignore it at their own peril. Change isn’t easy, but it is inevitable.

*Also has network virtualization solutions (SDN-VE and Contrail respectively).

** Cisco and Plexxi both have application focus (Application Centric Infrastructure and Application Affinity groups respectively)

Topics: IT Infrastructure Networking Cloud Services & Orchestration