Interop NYC (Oct 18-22, register here) is just around the corner and while Certeon co-founder Shawn Cooney won't have a booth to man, he is one of the speakers on a panel regarding virtualized application delivery appliances. It's a timely panel given how the emergent category of virtualized network infrastructure sits at the nexus of Interop NYC's three primary themes: cloud computing, virtualization, and datacenters.
According to Interop General Manager Lenny Heymann, IT managers are discovering how their efforts to consolidate datacenters or move to the cloud can be oppositional to delivering a consistent user experience. "By the time the consolidation or cloud exercise is over, the end user could end up much further away from the data than before, thereby degrading the user experience," said Heymann. "Everyone wants the same quality of service as the next guy regardless of where the data was housed. So, while the benefits of those consolidations are great, they don't outweigh the need to keep end-users happy." That need, according to Heymann, is why Interop's sessions on application delivery have comprised one of the event's more well attended tracks over the past few years.
A Mouthful: Virtualized Application Delivery Appliances
The phrase virtualized application delivery appliance sounds more intimidating than it actually is. The idea is basically to take what was once a piece of hardware that would sit in a rack in a datacenter and repackage the software that runs it as a virtual machine (VM) that can run on one or more of the common VM runtimes in the market such as Microsoft's Hyper-V.
According to Certeon CTO Donato Buccella, transmogrifying hardware into software makes more sense because of how it eliminates the premium associated with hardware-based appliances. "The trend has been to virtualize as many apps as possible" said Buccella. "[It] goes against buying a dedicated piece of hardware and putting it on a rack next to your lower cost higher performance commodity servers. Why buy more dedicated hardware?" Certeon makes aCelera; a WAN optimization solution that was once available as a hardware appliance but is now available only as VM technology that runs on XEN Enterprise, Hyper-V, VMware, and Red Hat KVM. Buccella claims that among its competitors, Certeon is the only one to support all four VM platforms (a claim that InformationWeek hasn't verified.
Hardware Appliances? Been There, Done That.
Indeed, given their reliance on Intel-compatible x86 technologies, there isn't much difference between an industry standard high volume (ISHV) x86 server and a hardware appliance. The bigger win on cost comes when IT managers take the virtualized version of a hardware appliance and run it along side other virtual machines in one physical server in a way that optimizes the utilization of that server. As ISHVs get more powerful over time, IT managers end up with even more cost leverage as more virtual machines can run side by side in one physical server -- a consolidation pattern that also yields savings on maintenance, energy, and space (very typical of the virtualization "pitch").
Of the many appliances that could be found in a datacenter, WAN optimizers are perhaps some of the better candidates for being turned into virtual appliances as none of what they do requires special hardware and all of their rocket science is in their software. The goal of any WAN optimization solution is to eliminate a lot of the network overhead and inefficiencies that are associated with passing LAN traffic (eg: CIFS, SMB, TCP) over a WAN with the net result being an improvement in application performance. Buccella cited Microsoft Sharepoint as an example of an application that struggles when its traffic is passed over wide area networks.
A Homogenous Market
WAN optimization is typically achieved through proprietary compression and caching routines and with what Buccella calls "congestion management protocols." In addition to compressing data that's about to be sent over a pipe, WAN optimization solutions also maximize the utilization of network packets. Unfortunately, lack of WAN optimization standards means that the same WAN optimization technology must exist on both ends of a WAN connection. In other words, solutions from the different vendors won't interoperate.
In addition to optimizing private WAN connections, Buccella said that WAN optimizers make sense when traffic is being routed over shared networks such as the Internet or Multiprotocol Label Switching-based (MPLS) networks. Application of virtualized WAN optimizers (sometimes referred to as "soft WAN Optimization Controllers" or "soft WOCs") to the Internet also touches another one of Interop's key themes: Cloud Computing.
The Cloud Connection As more businesses take advantage of cloud-based Infrastructure-As-A-Service offerings like Amazon's EC2, their only option for optimizing traffic between a cloud provider's datacenter and their offices is to go with a software-based solution. That's because there's no way to co-locate a hardware appliance in a cloud provider's datacenter.
Looking forward, the trend towards appliance virtualization will very likely lead to some market consolidation of the vendors who's wares make sense to virtualize. For example, there's an entire category of appliances dedicated to securing WANs and networks that could be naturally coupled with the technologies designed to accelerate application performance over those WANs. Buccella said that in 2012, Certeon plans to add secure tunneling as well as IP NATting into aCelera's mix of features.
The aforementioned Interop panel on the emergence of virtualized application delivery appliances is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, Oct 20th at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City.
David Berlind is the chief content officer of TechWeb and editor-in-chief of TechWeb.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below).