Nicira Makes A Ripple

If it wasn’t for Google Alerts I would have missed it. It’s not getting a lot of play so I’m guessing most haven’t seen it or just haven’t grasped the true meaning yet. NTT of Japan issued a press release on Aug 2nd claiming live virtual machine (VM) migration between data centers.

Live virtual machine migration is nothing new. When you click the button to start VMotion, or any other live VM migration tool, it all seems fairly trivial. Even VM mobility between data centers is almost old hat these days. We have a number of specialized hardware and software solutions marketed as live migration enablers. So what is all the fuss about? The part where they state they achieved this “…without the use of special network hardware devices or configuration”.  Translation, they didn’t upgrade the network or deploy any fancy tricks such as Cisco’s OTV, Juniper’s QFabric, or VMware’s MAC-in-MAC based VCNI.

To be completely transparent I have spent the last 6 years trying to convince customers that the cost of live migration between data centers, or even any to any within a data center, isn’t worth the value. Existing migration solutions required you to insert new hardware, change your network configurations, re-architect, or deploy some other costly mechanism that is not entirely scalable. The approach I favor in most cases is spinning up a new instance of the service and add it to the load balancer front ending the app or relying on geo-clustering. Live migration was alway my last recommendation when all else wasn’t viable.  Simply put, I was trying to give customers what they needed instead of what they were asking for, which customers eventually understood and accepted.  If Nicira is delivering what I think they are that could all change.

Nicira is still in stealth mode so we only have hints at what they are capable of. The press realease itself is elusive without so much as a quote from Nicira, which tells me that NTT believes they have something unique and game changing and wanted to show thought leadership by announcing it. If what Nicira is developing is truely hardware agnostic and leverages the capabilities of the Open vSwitch combined with the intelligince of Nicira’s Network Virtualization Platform (feature rich OpenFlow Controller maybe?) it’s pretty easy to see the value proposition they are pitching… ‘Mr. CIO, build the cheapest equal cost multipathing (ECMP) data center network you can and make all of the important decisions at the virtual edge’.  Long time Cisco service provider customers (NTT is a Cisco customer) may be able to hold off new equipment purchases and simply deploy an intelligent virtual edge instead.  With commodity switches like the Pronto 3920 selling for less that $12K USD it’s easy to see how a service provider could even redirect Cisco SMARTnet dollars towards a cheap refresh.

Pronto 3920 Ethernet Switch

The OpenFlow enabled Pronto 3920 10GE Switch Sells For Under $12k USD

I don’t recommend you start changing your data center network plans just yet. First, I’ve never touched a Pront0 switch (or any of the other dirt cheap commodity players) and I can’t speak to the quality, reliability, supportability, or performance. Second, Nicira still has to prove it can scale the solution, integrate it into the rest of the data center operations, and deploy it in a heterogeneous environment that includes the top player in the industry, VMware.  And of course we have yet to see what the rest of the networking industry has up its sleeve.  Still, Nicira generated a ripple; time will tell if they will generate waves.



Categories: Networking

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