Q&A: How Microsoft SDN and network virtualization affects you

In this Q&A with Microsoft's Rajeev Nagar, we explore the company's approach SDN and network virtualization.

Microsoft doesn't sell a standalone SDN or network virtualization product, but the company is active in these markets, delivering virtual network overlays via a combination of Windows Server (with Hyper-V Network Virtualization) and System Center.

While Microsoft doesn't market itself aggressively to the network engineering community like other overlay vendors do, the company had a big presence at the Open Networking Summit last week. I sat down with Rajeev Nagar, group program manager for Microsoft's Windows data center networking and platform team. In this Q&A, we discussed the Microsoft SDN and data center network virtualization vision, and the role that network engineers will play in it.

Tell me about the Microsoft SDN and network virtualization technology efforts that you lead.

Rajeev Nagar: The data center portion of my team delivers technologies and solutions that include those that fall within SDN. We deliver an implementation of overlay networking -- network virtualization. We deliver a distributed virtual switch as part of Windows Server. With Microsoft System Center this becomes a full stack for management, orchestration and control. The platform includes the protocol stack --TCP-IP, security-related infrastructure like IPsec, and remote connectivity technology.

The platform we deliver goes into all of Microsoft services, like Outlook.com, Bing search (both consumer and enterprise), XBox live and Office365.  In addition, we operate very large data centers for Windows Azure with tens of thousands of nodes [and] at least tens of thousands of network changes made every day.

In order for us to deploy these data centers at such [a] large scale, you cannot do these things in a manual manner like it in the past. Bringing online mission-critical applications might take the networking team from one week to a couple months to make the network ready. We can't tell 1,000 tenants, 'Hold off for month or two and we'll onboard you.' To operate these large data centers at scale and services at very large scale, we live, eat [and] breath the software-defined data center.

We build these solutions and deploy them in our public cloud. We learn from them. Then we deliver these solutions to our customers who choose to build out private data centers … or cloud service provider data centers. These customers take Windows Server and Systems Center and get these SDNs in conjunction with our storage and compute capabilities that we have deployed at large scale.

We do not monetize our SDN separately. It is integrated as part of our Windows Server and Systems Center offerings.

Tell me how Microsoft is collaborating with the networking industry to deliver network virtualization and SDN.

Nagar: We don't tell customers to focus on one technological component. We're focused on the business value customers can get. We work with networking partners so our customers can maximize their existing investments in the underlay they've already deployed. Then we deliver all SDN components, including net virtualization, so they can get the security, isolation, flexibility and agility that they want.

We've invested in building out a distributed virtual switch that is extensible by design. No forklift is needed. So partners like NEC have delivered commercial offerings with OpenFlow extensions so our switch can respond to OpenFlow. Cisco has released Nexus 1000v that fits into our extensible switch.

We work with merchant silicon vendors, with the systems vendors like Cisco, Huawei and Arista. We have standardized ways by which we communicate with them -- OMI [Open Management Infrastructure], for example. Then we work with ISVs [independent software vendors] that build on our SDN capabilities

Last year at ONS we had demoed an interesting prototype of how Lync can communicate with software-defined networks to deliver great call quality dynamically. So we are integrating with the ecosystem from the applications on down, providing a platform for the new apps of the future.

Microsoft's Albert Greenberg described some SDN innovations that Microsoft does with the control plane and data plane in its Azure data centers. Will Microsoft be adding some of these technologies to its SDN products?

Nagar: We're not making any product announcements. Azure's scale design point is different from what customers need on-premises. We have the ability to deliver controllers that can scale to very large deployments because we've done it in Azure. Do we believe our in-market product serves the needs of customers deploying private clouds? Yes. Will there be a change in the scale requirements of customers who deploy private clouds? It's difficult to tell. Given our experience with Azure, do we have [the] ability to respond to the scale needs of customers who deploy private clouds? Absolutely, yes.

What is the role for a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert in a Microsoft SDN and network virtualization environment?

Nagar: With this change that's coming, for customers to absorb the new way, it requires not just their adopting [of] new technologies; it requires a cultural change and a process change within their organizations. And that's not limited to us. It's not just a Microsoft thing. It's a thing within SDN.

The traditional networking engineer had a sandbox, and it was a great sandbox, and they played within that sandbox. And their expertise is incredibly valued. Those folks now have the opportunity to play within a much larger sandbox, which encompasses compute, storage and networking. In fact, they have the ability to become trusted business advisors to the workload owners and business owners who need to run mission-critical applications in order to achieve their business objectives. I look at it as a huge opportunity for the traditional networking specialist.

Does that mean new skills for networking pros?

Nagar: I think they have the opportunity to take their existing expertise and converse with business owners so their expertise can be more fully exploited. Will they learn something in process? Absolutely. Do they bring a lot of value to table? Absolutely.

We look at SDN very holistically -- not just as an overlay thing, but [as] the right combination of overlay and underlay. So there will be opportunity for them to learn and to teach.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, news director or follow him on Twitter @ShamusTT.

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