Invisible Networking – The Missing Piece of the Hybrid Cloud Puzzle – Big Switch Networks Briefing Note

The majority of IT organizations today are contending with a fragmented mixture of on and off-premises infrastructure resources. This multi-cloud reality creates management complexity, and as a result, demands a “hybrid cloud” approach that provides integration, automated and single-pane-of-glass management, and a common underlying infrastructure fabric.

Public cloud services continue to enter the equation, as IT seeks to increase infrastructure elasticity and simplicity. Additionally, “shadow IT” is becoming more common as the cloud delivery model makes it easier for lines of business to spin up applications independently from the IT department. These cloud services are typically delivered by a range of providers, especially as IT seeks to avoid vendor lock-in.

The shift off-premises acknowledged, many workloads will continue to remain on premises for a number of reasons including performance, security, and compliance. IT is working to infuse agility and efficiency into these workloads by transforming remaining on-premises workloads to be “cloud-like” (most notably, to become easier to deploy and manage). Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) has become popular as a streamlined path to private cloud infrastructure on-premises, and is becoming established as an effective architecture on which to deploy core production workloads.

When it comes to connecting these resources and attaining the vision of the hybrid cloud, the network is critically important because it serves as the “glue” connecting all data and operations.

Big Cloud Fabric and Nutanix AHV

For its part, Big Switch Networks has innovated its Big Cloud Fabric (BCF) software platform to facilitate a common networking fabric across on and off-premises virtual private clouds (VPCs). Per Big Switch, this integration stands to increase responsiveness and simplicity of the network within hybrid cloud architectures, most significantly by establishing common governance policies and by increasing automation and visibility. Storage Switzerland’s briefing note, “Why SDN Should be Part of Your Cloud Strategy,” contains a deeper dive on Big Switch and Enterprise-VPCs (E-VPC).

The E-VPCs are tenant-based and serve as the common logical construct across physical network resources. They can be defined on a per-application or per-orchestrator basis (ie. vCenter or Prism, Test & Dev or Production) and moved freely across physical HCI clusters as they are logically defined by a centralized controller within BCF. The removal of physical network configurations via traditional CLI on a switch by switch basis increases agility of deployment and flexibility on which infrastructure to deploy applications. Meanwhile, establishing common network principles and APIs reduces service latency, streamlines management and provides automated network resource provisioning. Furthermore, this centralized approach enhances troubleshooting by providing greater visibility into virtual machine-to-virtual machine traffic across the HCI cluster and network fabric.

In December, Big Switch integrated BCF with Nutanix’s Acropolis hypervisor to provide native integration and automation for HCI operations, a key step to facilitating its stated core differentiator of being the only vendor to integrate with the cloud orchestrator of the customer’s choice through a logical, VPC-based architecture. Through this integration, if an infrastructure manager is working with Nutanix’s Prism management platform and an application manager deploys a new HCI node BCF automatically detects it and adds it to the fabric. Further, when a new VM is spun up, BCF automatically recognizes it and pushes it live into the network.

StorageSwiss Take

Big Switch and Nutanix tout their approaches to infrastructure as “invisible.” This vision alludes to the real-time responsiveness of IT infrastructure for minimal overhead that is required in today’s business environment. The automated handoff of management functions between server, storage, and networking teams can certainly bring infrastructure managers closer to this goal. In a world frustrated with manual-intensive day-to-day operations and in which true hybrid synergies are the goal, the “zero-touch” BCF approach stands to add significant value.

HCI a la Nutanix’s platform has gone a long way in making simpler-to-manage, private and hybrid cloud infrastructure more attainable for enterprises. However, removing switch-by-switch network operations has been the remaining roadblock. As Nutanix has consolidated server and storage functions onto a single platform, BCF consolidates and automates core network functionality across various private and public cloud orchestrators.

Arguably the most significant value that the Big Switch and Nutanix integration facilitates is accelerated time to application deployment and service delivery – ultimately helping the business keep one step ahead. For large enterprises, consolidation and automation also reduce the need for large teams that manage discrete pools of infrastructure. For smaller organizations with limited in-house IT staff, this increased simplicity can substantially accelerate time-to-market.

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Senior Analyst, Krista Macomber produces analyst commentary and contributes to a range of client deliverables including white papers, webinars and videos for Storage Switzerland. She has a decade of experience covering all things storage, data center and cloud infrastructure, including: technology and vendor portfolio developments; customer buying behavior trends; and vendor ecosystems, go-to-market positioning, and business models. Her previous experience includes leading the IT infrastructure practice of analyst firm Technology Business Research, and leading market intelligence initiatives for media company TechTarget.

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