Virtualization is a concept that changes any technology it touches. Take enterprise storage as an example: it is difficult to find storage implementations that don’t leverage RAID, the storage virtualization that virtualizes real hard drives and presents a single logical storage interface to the application layer. Similarly, modern data centers are almost always based on server virtualization, where the real computing resources are virtualized and presented to the higher layers as a single compute entity. The next industry that is being reshaped by the virtualization approach is Wide-Area Networking (WAN). Virtualizing wide area networks is going to change how enterprises connect to the Internet. So let’s look at why virtualizing anything, and more specifically wide area networks, makes sense.
If you have concrete and non-continuous resources, i.e. 5 hard disks, 8 cores, etc., it becomes very inefficient to have a resource allocation scheme that assigns resources to a task. The reason is the discontinuous nature of the resources that don’t match the requirements of the task. As an example, say a task needs 1.3 CPU capacity at a given time. If you don’t have a virtualized platform you have to assign 2 CPUs to the task, simply because 1 CPU will fall short. Of course this will leave part of the second CPU underutilized, i.e. wasted resource. This is where virtualization comes in and by virtualizing all available resources enables a more adaptive resource allocation scheme. In essence, with CPU virtualization, 1.3 CPU capacity can be assigned to that task, leaving the remaining CPU capacity for other tasks and therefore avoiding waste of resources.
Virtualizing WAN works with the same underlying idea. The WAN virtualizing appliance (also called a Broadband Bonding appliance) will have the intelligence layer that is responsible for the allocation of the resources (in this case Internet lines) to the tasks (in this case traffic flows) in such a way that the wide area network is optimized. The term optimization takes on a whole new meaning when applied in WAN virtualization as the traffic flows have various and sometimes conflicting requirements (such as maximized throughput and minimized latency) not to mention the flows competing with each other for the same WAN resources. Being able to identify and implement virtualized WAN components and accordingly utilize those components for the flows they are designed for simplifies WAN planning and bandwidth management. If you are able to create a WAN unit that has certain throughput and latency characteristics that you identified for a specific traffic type, then you can simply have that flow type filtered onto that virtualized WAN unit. This will mean you can confidently have VoIP and web browsing use the same ISP transports, as long as your WAN Virtualization appliance has created the virtualized WAN pipes that match the flows at hand.
Virtualization has changed all the industries it was applied to and enterprise wide area networking is the next in line.
Cahit Akin, CEO, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of SD-WAN (Software Defined WAN) and NFV solutions capable of Broadband Bonding that enables self-healing WAN networks that route around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss.