What Virtual Network Services Can Do for the Enterprise
Anxious to enter the data center business, telecom carriers have turned to the emerging field of virtual network services (VNS) to make it happen.
In recent weeks, AT&T and Verizon have launched their own versions of VNS, pitching them as both replacements for and extensions of local data infrastructure. But can these services really provide the performance required by enterprise applications? And how do they affect existing LAN and WAN connectivity, much of which is rapidly becoming virtualized under emerging software-defined networking and SD-WAN protocols?
More Than a New Technology
Enterprises need to be able to merge their growing public and private cloud architectures into a hybrid network that supports a single, geographically distributed data environment. Why? Traditional wide area networks (WANs) make it hard for a company to add new circuits as it grows. They’re also less cost-efficient this way.
Telecom-based VNS services are part of a larger trend toward full abstraction of the network stack, using SD-WAN in tandem with the company’s web-based circuits to handle network activity from one location. This should ultimately create flattened, fabric architectures across the entire data communications framework.
With this in mind, demand for VNS is driven more by the need to enhance the customer experience rather than simply the desire to get in on the latest networking technology, according to Verizon’s Victoria Lonker in Network World. The goal, she says, is to provide an integrated management stack from the application to the cloud to ensure continuity of service no matter where data is located or what kind of infrastructure must be traversed in order to reach it.
With the proper management and orchestration in place, the enterprise can then treat distant data repositories and other resources as if they were in the next room.
How Virtual Network Services Look Today
Today’s VNS packages include services that reinforce security, use SD-WAN to optimize traditional WAN connections and apply managed software from vendors that are deeply entrenched in legacy data center infrastructure. In this way, the enterprise gains not just unlimited scale, but multiple delivery and pricing models that allow it to consume resources and establish service levels at a comfortable pace.
In most cases, these services are downloaded to generic hardware appliances housed in the enterprise data center. This allows organizations to quickly build secure, software-centric networks that can function across regions while still incorporating much of the legacy network infrastructure that supports the bulk of the enterprise workload. Overseeing all of this is an orchestration layer that governs virtualized network resources and services using policy-based control modules.
An Integrated Approach
To succeed in this necessary shift to software, says CIMI Corp.’s Tom Nolle, organizations will have to adopt one of two network services management models: an integrated approach or, according to TechTarget, what he calls “ships in the night.”
- In an integrated model, underlying resources select from a predetermined set of management variables, giving operators the ability to fine-tune network performance in accordance with service level agreements (SLAs).
- A “ships in the night” system offers services and service features in their native forms to provide more leeway in their selection and implementation. On the one hand, this removes much of the complexity involved in translating resource and service status, but it also makes it more difficult to run fault corrections between services and perform other maintenance tasks.
While these two models can coexist, it is likely that a version of the ships model will become more effective for SLAs as the hybrid cloud evolves.
Universal connectivity has long been a dream for the enterprise. The ability to access any data from any device regardless of location presents many positive opportunities for improving business productivity and defining new markets and revenue streams. Using virtual network services to mask the inherent disparities between physical network architectures, protocols, formats and service layers, the enterprise can start managing networks according to what it needs rather than what resource limitations will allow.