With the acquisition of Vyatta announced this week, Brocade Networks will be able to integrate physical and virtual networks so they can be managed as one. However, that's not quite the software defined networking strategy many are reporting.
Both Brocade and Vyatta execs have said the acquisition will bolster Brocade's software defined networking (SDN) strategy. Brocade, which offers a full data center network infrastructure and Ethernet fabric, was one of the first network hardware vendors to support SDN by making its switches and routers OpenFlow-friendly.
While Vyatta provides software-based network components, it is not necessarily an SDN player or a vendor that offers controllers, network software overlays or other technology that plays a key role in making networks programmable. In Vyatta, Brocade has acquired a virtual router and firewalling solution that has been around and well-used for years. At first, Vyatta tried to compete directly with Cisco's routers, but later it focused more keenly on routing inside the cloud or virtual stack to provide firewalling and other Layer 3 services for virtual loads.
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With Vyatta's technology, Brocade can push inside the virtual server stack, using the router to interface between the physical and virtual layers in order to apply policy and network services across hardware and software components alike.
That way, an enterprise that has some applications in its own data center and some in a hosted environment can build a "hybrid infrastructure" that coordinates and implements policies consistently across the two worlds, explained Ken Cheng, vice president of the Routing, Application Delivery and Software Networking Group at Brocade.
"Vyatta's router will work alongside our routing and fabric," he said.
Currently every virtual instance of a network component has an underlying physical match, and the two are managed separately even though they must work in tandem, explained Forrester Research principal analyst Andre Kindness. So, for example, network admins must go into vCenter to make changes to the VMware environment and then manage physical components through a separate console.
"Right now network admins are manning two separate devices and doing redundant work," Kindness said. This negates the goal of the automated and orchestrated cloud. "The idea of the cloud is to get rid of the human element," he said.
If Brocade is successful at integrating Vyatta's technology, the company will make a big difference in virtual-to-physical plumbing, creating its own "secret sauce" for virtual networking, explained Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research, which largely focuses on SDN. The solution would rival Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE). Doyle believes Juniper may have a similar solution in the works.
So where does SDN play in the Brocade-Vyatta deal?
The main goal of SDN is to make the network more programmable -- and some do this by decoupling and centralizing the control plane to enable granular management of network flows. Brocade-Vyatta technology will not enable that process, but will benefit from it.
"This is not SDN that's about programming the network. Brocade is not buying the controller. This is virtual software based networking," Kindness explained.
With integrated virtual and physical networks in an OpenFlow environment, engineers "can build applications based on controller technology" that reach into the virtual server stack, said Cheng. Ultimately they will extend programmability across both the hardware infrastructure and software networks inside the stack.
The "uber-potential" in combined Brocade-Vyatta technology would be to use OpenFlow to enhance firewalling and load balancing across the physical and virtual networks from the centralized controller, for example. But this kind of potential will hinge on how well Brocade integrates Vyatta's technology.
"Who knows how well the Vyatta stuff links with whatever Brocade has put together?" Doyle said.
Brocade will unveil a more specific roadmap for the combined technology in the next 90 to 120 days, Cheng said.