By Kai Holthaus
Data-center virtualization is nearly all-encompassing by now. Most corporations have achieved a compute virtualization rate of over 80%. Only very few workloads remain on physical hardware instead of being handled by a virtual machine, and usually that’s because of very specialized requirements of the applications themselves. Storage is following closely behind.
The main holdout to the software-defined data center (SDDC) is the network infrastructure. Most networks are still being managed on the physical hardware itself, instead of virtualizing the network layer as well, and moving the management of the network into software. With NSX, VMware has the premier network virtualization software, and NSX can help you reap the benefits of a virtualized network.
But why would a CIO invest in the network virtualization? This blog post will explore the main use and business cases.
Use Case 1: Security
The importance of good security has only grown in recent years. Practically every week we hear of data breaches and hackers gaining access to sensitive data in some way, shape or form. The average cost of such a data breach in the US is over $6.5M .
Security is complicated and costly. In a hardware-managed network environment, security must be designed in from the ground up, and implementing changes to the security setup become relatively big projects relatively quickly.
With NSX, you can implement micro-segmentation of the network. Network administrators can easily define and implement strong firewalls on each deployed virtual machine and on the hypervisors running those virtual machines. Changes in the requirements for the security can be implemented quickly, because it only requires the reconfiguration of the NSX setup, instead of having to reconfigure the physical hardware. Since deploying those additional firewalls is handled in software, the task to configure stronger firewall rules becomes easier, and network administrators gain the ability to control the network traffic flowing between different VMs in a more granular fashion.
For an easy to understand primer on micro-segmentation, check out my colleague’s blog on Understanding Software-Defined Networking for IT Leaders.
Use Case 2: Agility
The network is typically the bottleneck to rapidly deploying new virtual machines or new environments for virtual machines. This happens because the network is hardware-managed, which limits the ability of the network team to quickly change the network topology to accommodate new subnets or VLANs. It also means that provisioning a new VM cannot always be fully automated, because there is the potential for a manual reconfiguration of the network being required.
Moving management into software allows the full automation of the VM provisioning and configuration processes. Configuring new VMs now becomes a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Moving VMs between hosts can now easily been done, because NSX can automatically re-configure the network so that the VM can keep its network configuration, even when moving it somewhere else.
Having this ability to quickly set up and tear down entire networks, and reconfiguring the network on the fly is an essential requirement for continuous deployment and integration. Techniques like this allow DevOps-centric organizations to rapidly implement new functionality for their applications up to a rate of several changes to production systems within just a single minute.
Use Case 3: Availability / Disaster Recovery
Failing over to a Disaster Recovery (DR) site typically involves reconfiguring the network infrastructure to point at new servers. This is very time-consuming and error-prone. Moving management of the network into software now allows network teams to leave the physical network infrastructure alone when failing over to DR resources. The network traffic will simply be routed to a different VM when the original VM becomes unavailable. Integrating NSX into the DR plans, and into other data center management software, will therefore allow network teams to reduce RTO significantly.
These are only three use cases for why virtualizing the network using NSX is a winning business proposition. There are additional use cases, like enabling hybrid cloud environments, which further improve your return on investment for NSX.
Broad adoption of compute virtualization took about 10 years. With these use cases and benefits, it should not take 10 years to reach broad adoption of network virtualization.
Kai Holthaus is a Sr. Transformation Consultant with VMware Operations Transformation Services and is based in Oregon.
 2015 Cost of a Data Breach Study, Ponemon Institute