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Virtualization has impacted nearly every aspect of corporations’ data centers, save one – the network. While server and storage virtualization have increased efficiencies and allowed for consolidation across the board, the networking piece of the puzzle has remained anchored firmly in the physical world.

Virtualization vendor Vyatta is poised to change all that with an open-source software solution that allows organizations to make network infrastructure a function that runs on the same servers and uses the same business logic as other components of a virtualized data center, says Dave Roberts, Vyatta’s vice president of strategy.

The advent of server virtualization has led to increased data center consolidation, says Roberts, and the use of electronic management tools to move server configurations between physical and virtual environments with tools like VMware’s Vmotion or Citrix XenMotion, for instance.

Virtualization of both server and storage infrastructure has been good news for computing generally, but the big problem is that the underlying network infrastructure and associated security appliances have been left out of this technological evolution, he says.

“Networks in the data centers aren’t just code running on a server. There are multiple tiers, lots of servers, routers, switches and cables. That’s because traditionally, a firewall is in a box, a router is a box, load balancers and VPNs and all that other equipment is an appliance; a box,” Roberts says. “Those pieces are not virtualized – they are physical, and they have to be left behind when you virtualize, they don’t come with you,” he says.

But in Vyatta’s world, network infrastructure becomes part of customers’ virtualized  applications, Roberts says.

“You can plop a firewall, a router, VPN, or any box that used to only exist in a physical form factor into a virtual machine and manage it using hypervisors from Microsoft, VMware, Citrix,” Roberts says. Vyatta’s software solution allows solution providers and network administrators to manage their networks the same way they manage all other virtualized components, he says.

“We feel that server logic and network logic don’t need to be separated. We provide software that runs on customers’ commodity ecosystem that allows the network to be virtualized,” says Roberts. Vyatta’s code base can be downloaded onto any existing standard x86 server platform, Roberts says, including solutions from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM or even whitebox hardware, he says.

Vyatta’s software is open source, which allows solution providers and customers to use it on any legacy infrastructure, Roberts says. Many traditional networking and security products are expensive, unwieldy and inflexible, but using Vyatta’s solution, channel partners can leverage open standards to offer more flexibility and a much lower cost for customers, he says.

“Anything capable of running Linux can run Vyatta,” he says.

Roberts is quick to add that Vyatta doesn’t just offer a virtualization solution. The software solution can run on existing physical hardware, as well, for customers whose data centers aren’t as large, or that don’t need to virtualize. In these deployments, Vyatta can optimize network performance, ease management while at the same time lowering costs because of its open source design, he says.

In addition, some customers that don’t want to invest in both vendor-specific hardware and a Vyatta solution, the company offers its own pre-integrated appliance that’s already loaded with the Vyatta software.

“We do also sell hardware, for customers that want one throat to choke,” Roberts says. “This appliance is analogous to anything they’d buy from, say, Cisco or Juniper and we can offer it to solution providers and their customers for 50 percent to 85 percent less than those guys with generally the same or better performance,” he says.

Many vendors are slow to jump on the network virtualization bandwagon, claiming that the investment it would take to re-educate administrators and solution providers on the intricacies of networking wouldn’t be worth it. But Roberts disagrees, adding that managing network virtualization isn’t much different from managing server virtualization.

“If you can manage Citrix or VMware, you can manage Vyatta,” Roberts says. “You have to know a little about virtualization and a little about networking, but neither of these areas are exotic knowledge,” he says.