Cisco's Nexus 1000v Virtual Switch Is Poised to Push Virtualization Further, Faster

Virtualization in the enterprise is about to open up, and it's not because of VMware's new vSphere, Microsoft's Hyper-V or Cisco's Unified Computing System. The tipping point will come with the release of Cisco's 1000v virtual switch, which will open up virtualization to companies' networking groups, lowering barriers and opening new possibilities.

While I accept that x86-based server virtualization is a growing fact of life in the data center, it wasn't until I took a troubleshooting class at Interop Las Vegas in May that I fully understood why server virtualization is about to go further, faster.

The trigger isn't virtualization giant VMware's recent release of vSphere 4, although this major platform release is fundamental to further virtualization adoption. The trigger isn't the recognition of the improvements that Microsoft's Hyper-V and the upcoming release of Windows Server 2008 R2 will bring.

No, server virtualization is poised to go further and faster because of something Cisco is about to do-but it has almost nothing to do with that company's release of its Unified Computing System.

Cisco is wrapping up the beta tests of its Nexus 1000v virtual switch. With the release of VMware's vSphere 4, third-party switches including the Nexus 1000v can be incorporated into the virtualized data center infrastructure. The significance of this news is hard to overstate.

Until now, switching in VMware virtualized environments has been handled by the same people who were creating the virtual machines: the systems group. The network group was often left out of the equation of creating new systems for a number of reasons, not least of which is that there was little or no physical switching work required to bring a new virtual system online. This has meant that a fair number of systems people have been getting a crash course in switching and networking.

As long as the virtualization project was limited to test and development, this wasn't such a big deal. However, the presenters at this tuning and tweaking workshop at Interop quoted analyst figures that said virtualization has penetrated about 10 percent to 15 percent of the data center. This was borne out in an informal audience poll at the session.

With the advent of the Cisco Nexus 1000v switch, which is a fully operational switch realized entirely in software, network staffers who may have raised concerns about and implementation barriers to further server virtualization projects will be able to use the familiar Cisco command line, management tools and scripts to help push virtualization projects forward.

By reducing the friction between the system and network groups--both of which have highly specialized, differentiated and essential skills--VMware has set the stage for a wave of data center virtualization.

I believe that other network switch makers are preparing software-only versions of their wares, but none to my knowledge has been announced. And even Cisco's switch is not commercially available yet. However, making room for best-of-breed, third-party components is a step in the right direction.

For one thing, using Cisco networking infrastructure means that the trained work force ready to tune and tweak the virtual infrastructure just got a lot bigger. Networking staff with architecting and operational experience--even in the purely physical world--will be tremendously useful in creating workable virtualized data centers. And this additional expertise couldn't come a moment too soon if the content from the Interop session is on target.

According to Barb Goldworm, president and chief analyst at FOCUS storage, performance and capacity management are the No. 2 and No. 3 limiting factors in virtualization projects. Adding networking experts already familiar with Cisco tools, and using a Cisco switch that can be slotted into an existing network management system, means that IT managers can focus on storage and capacity management concerns.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected]