Chris Wahl is a Senior Solutions Architect at Ahead, located in Chicago, Ill. He has more than 14 years of experience as an IT Pro. Chris originally went to school for networking, and has a bachelor’s degree in networking and communications management. More recently he’s been doing sys admin work in sys admin engineering, architecture, and data center focused projects. His certifications include VMware VCDX #104, Cisco CCNA data center and CCNP router and switch certifications for which he also teaches classes, and several other VMware, Cisco, Microsoft, and HP certifications. He is also one of the first VCDX-NV certified professionals
What excites you about network virtualization?
I spent quite a few of years managing every type of virtualized infrastructure you can imagine, ranging from very small and medium sized businesses, to a 16,000 person enterprise with over 1,000 virtual machines. In every instance, the roadblock was always the network to the point where in the large deployment that I managed, we would just plan that any network change would take three weeks even if it was just a VLAN on a port. We could pretty much guarantee that it would be about two weeks to make the change, and another week to fix it because it wouldn’t be made correctly. So, the idea of making the physical infrastructure more like plumbing which we can just make work, and then using network virtualization overlay technology is extremely attractive, because it eliminates days and weeks of real world issues that I have run into as a data center focused engineer and completely hated.
How can networking professionals benefit from network virtualization? Why should they not be concerned this will devalue their skills or make them less important?
In my mind, having gone through this as a sys admin originally focused on Novell and microcomputers and mainframes, and then transitioning to Windows and Active Directory, it’s pretty much the same story all over again. You have a base set of skills and experiences that feed into problem solving, the ability to abstract requirements or constraints out of a design. Then there’s that fundamental understanding of how things should be put together, regardless of the operating system or the network in this case. So as a networking professional, it’s more of the same. You’ve been exposed to a number of network architectures from different vendors and the protocols that go with them. None of that is really changing. It’s just that now there are new ways to make that particular piece of the data center better and faster. I actually view this as an opportunity to increase value, make yourself much more integrated in the workflow for the application or the stack, and really offer some ways to differentiate your business or if you’re a consultant your practice from others that don’t ride on this wagon.
As you’ve gone through network virtualization training, has anything surprised you?
Two things stand out. The first is there’s a cardinal rule you can’t route within the hypervisor. With network virtualization you can finally go beyond just Layer 2 switching and really focus on Layer 2/3 routing and offer dynamic flows to the network within a single hypervisor across hypervisors. That to me is huge. It really opens up a lot of opportunity to go back to the drawing board on the design. In the same vein, I feel that the ability to do source-based firewalling is extremely impressive. I was just blown away to the fact that we can apply policy basically ACLs at the source port of the Hypervisor and even prevent the VM from putting traffic on the wire if it doesn’t pass policy. That is extremely powerful. When I work with customers, it’s always been a challenge working around firewalls and how we’re going to logically and physically separate the network into these different segments. Firewalling capabilities from with a network virtualization platform puts the whole design on its head. It lets you step back and really reanalyze how you’re doing design and architecture.
What would you say to someone who said “I don’t need to learn about network virtualization?
Well in reality, they may just be bogged down spending 80% of the time keeping the lights on, and I can understand the personal investment that it takes to work on these skills outside of work. A lot of us don’t get the opportunity or the support we would like from our employer to really stretch our legs on these new technologies at work. In addition, some IT shops probably just don’t care. They’re just going to say, we’re not interested in this. I need you to continue being a router or switch jockey because that’s what I hired you to do. My advice would be that’s total nearsightedness; that’s only looking at today’s wants and needs. Network virtualization, it’s a huge game changer. The companies that embrace it are going to be infinitely more dynamic and scalable and able to complete at a whole different level. Therefore network virtualization is going to happen, and getting on the train right now is better than standing in front of the train because you’re going to get hit by it. I would say get on it now while there’s a lot of opportunity to learn and really understand while things are so new. That way when your company says, “Man, we’d really like to do something with network virtualization,” or another opportunity comes up at a different company, you can jump right on it and land with both feet firmly on the ground and start running.
Anything else that you think someone should know?
I would recommend that IT pros not focus too much on the individual technologies, or all of the hype between this vendor and that vendor. I think it’s important for everyone to take a breath, take a step back, look at the ecosystem, look at the open source products that are coming out, look at the vendor products that are coming out and really understand the differences and the similarities. Don’t ask “which product?” Ask “what would benefit my design” and then pick a starting point. Because if you look at SDN and network virtualization, and try to learn everything at once, it’s overwhelming and you’re going to feel like there’s just no way you can learn all of this. But if you pick a starting point of one project or one particular way to implement it, and use that as a landing point to gain education around the technology, it’s going to be a lot easier.