Virtual Appliances and the Networking Team

Over the last few years there has been a lot of progress made towards virtualizing a decent amount of the traditional, network-centric appliances that used to be just hardware based. Why are some companies still resistant to this software-based approach?  Is it because that’s the way it has always been, or is it inherent to the networking geeks who may be less virtualization-savvy than some of their cohorts in the other technology silos?  It reminds me of the days when VoIP was first being introduced and the subsequent lack of acceptance that some of the old-school, traditional telephony engineers fueled.  Some of them accepted it and others retired.  The point is though that it makes sense and those who accept it will be much the better for it.

With the dynamic today moving towards private and public cloud offerings, the virtual appliance marketplace will most certainly continue to grow and mature.  There are many reasons why this makes a lot of sense.

Take a look at the time it takes to implement a physical network appliance.  Let’s use an application delivery controller – or load-balancer if you prefer that term.  How long does it take to implement a physical box into an existing environment?  Between ordering the unit(s) which usually come in pairs, shipping, and installing, it takes some time.  The cables need to be run, the box racked and stacked and then physically powered on and provisioned.  We have been doing this for years and this used to be standard operating procedure. Now that works well and good, kinda, in your own data center.  What about a public cloud offering?  Sorry, you don’t own that infrastructure. How about downloading a virtual appliance, spinning up a VM and you are off to the races. Again, this happens after provisioning the unit, but there is a lot less moving parts going that route.  Cloud or not – either way it still makes sense.  There will be less infrastructure requirements: power, rack space, cabling etc.

There are some other tangible benefits as well.  From a refresh perspective it just makes sense to upgrade a virtual appliance with a newer image – or adding memory –rather than a hardware-based forklift upgrade every five years (with potentially more downtime required).  The ability to shrink or grow a virtual appliance is one of the things that set it apart.  We don’t have to repurchase anything – other than license keys and annual service contracts.  Regrettably, those won’t go away.  But coupled all together with the flexibility to move your virtual appliances along with your data from one environment to another is key.  We will see more and more network-centric appliances become virtualized.  There will most assuredly always be some physical boxes that the network folks can get their hands on, but that will be for access purposes only.

The companies/manufacturers/network-engineers who don’t embrace this trend could quickly find themselves behind the eight ball. Analog phones anyone?