September 21, 2014

Can You Replace Your Network Hardware with Software?

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Recently there has been a fair amount of discussion around the hallways at Carousel about whether software and cloud solutions will start to replace actual hardware and network appliances in a world of virtualized and cloud based data centers. A couple of recent articles from TechTarget seem to indicate that this is not only possible, but is a trend that is starting to gain traction.

Over the past decade businesses have deployed specialized network appliances to perform specific tasks quickly, efficiently and consistently. But does that hardware really need to be a part of the solution in a virtualized data center? According to SearchNeworking.com

Network appliance vendors are increasingly offering virtual versions of their products. By separating the underlying software from dedicated hardware, vendors offer enterprises the flexibility and savings of running virtual appliances on industry standard servers. Virtual appliances mobilize network edge services, allowing them to follow virtual machines around enterprise networks and into the cloud. While virtualizing appliances may be all the rage, not every hardware appliance is well suited for the translation to a virtual appliance.

When you think about it, this trend makes a lot of sense. Businesses with cutting edge, virtualized data centers have plenty of computing resources that can be leveraged to run the specific software requirements of particular appliances, and by virtualizing the solutions it can make the IT infrastructure much more mobile and flexible. VMWare already has an entire marketplace of virtualized appliances on their site (http://www.vmware.com/appliances/) But what about actual cloud-based networking hardware solutions? Is control of our hardware moving to the cloud? Again, according to SearchNetworking.com

Network devices that are managed through the cloud are becoming a reality. Some pioneering companies have already pushed the management and control planes of wireless LAN infrastructure into the cloud, and now they are introducing wired devices that use the same cloud-based networking hardware model.

“The low-hanging fruit right now is wireless access points, but it’s completely conceivable that anything from switches to any other network device could be effectively managed from the cloud,” said Harold Mann, president of Mann Consulting, a San Francisco firm that uses cloud-based wireless access points from D-Link to deliver managed wireless LAN services to small and midsized businesses (SMBs). “It’s just a matter of hardware companies getting around the challenges with some protocols.”

Interestingly, these types of solutions might start to make hardware sales look more like a recurring monthly software sale than a hardware sale. It is only a matter of time until more complex devices start to come on-line. What do you think? Would this be an approach you would consider in your network? For more details on how to design your next generation network infrastructure, Contact Carousel today.

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