Networking and Virtualization Vendors Should Join the Open vSwitch Effort

Citrix is already there, Microsoft, RedHat, Oracle and the networking crowd should sign up

My colleague Mark Bowker and I are knee-deep in new research data on server virtualization. Within this mountain of data, we are discovering some networking existing and impending networking issues related to network switching. Today, many server virtualization projects are led by server administrators, with little or no participation from the networking team. As you may imagine, this means that the server team configures all virtual switches to the best of its ability, without considering how physical switches are already configured. As things scale, the server team realizes the error of its ways and quickly calls the networking group in to help out. This is where things really break down. Before doing anything, the networking folks have to learn the virtualization platform, understand how the physical and virtual networks should interoperate, and then roll up their sleeves and start gluing everything together. This is a painful learning curve but I believe that future issues will be far more difficult. As organizations increase the number of VMs deployed, networking configurations get more difficult -- especially when VMs move around. Users regularly complain about the number of VLANs they have to configure, provision, and manage. This situation will grow worse and worse as VMs become the standard unit of IT. In my mind, it makes no sense for virtualization vendors like Citrix, Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware to recreate the richness of physical L2 switches in the virtual world. So what can be done? Well one alternative is to eliminate virtual switches entirely and do all switching at the physical layer via the Virtual Ethernet Port Aggregator (VEPA) standard being developed in the IEEE. I believe this will happen but in the meantime there is another alternative being discussed this week at the Citrix Industry Analyst Event -- Open vSwitch. As described on the Apache web site, "Open vSwitch Open vSwitch is a multilayer virtual switch licensed under the open source Apache 2.0 license. The goal is to build a production quality switch for VM environments that supports standard management interfaces (e.g. NetFlow, RSPAN, ERSPAN, CLI), and is open to programmatic extension and control." Here's why this makes sense to me: 1. Given a pool of collective resources, a collaborative open effort would provide more advanced switching functionality sooner rather than later. 2. An open alternative would expose APIs that could be easily integrated with leading switch management tools from Brocade, Cisco, Extreme, Force 10, HP, Juniper, etc. 3. Vendors would not have to integrate with each hypervisor independently. This would improve code quality and again speed time-to-market. At the very least, Citrix, Microsoft, and Oracle should back this as a way to push back on VMware's marketshare lead. I've been around long enough to know the strengths and limitations of open source and standards but I think that with the right support, this one could have legs. I know that vendors have their own businesses to look after but isn't another end goal to create products that the market wants? I think Open vSwitch would fit this bill.

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