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Innovative Tools Help NEC, V3 Take Top Honors at Best of Interop

Innovation ruled the day when it came time to crown the Best of Interop Overall and Best Startup for InformationWeek Reports' Best of Interop Awards.

The Best of Interop Overall award went to NEC Corporation of America's NEC ProgrammableFlow Controller, PF6800, which also claimed the Management, Monitoring and Testing honors. According to head judge Steven Hill, the PF6800 is particularly relevant in light of the growing interest in software-defined networks (SDNs). "There's been a lot of buzz about software-defined networks, accompanied by a bunch of new OpenFlow-based switching products, but only NEC has chosen to push into the important network controller market," he says.

The PF6800 is the first enterprise-class, OpenFlow-compliant network controller. Even though Ethernet itself is an open standard, the control plane for switching is not, which means network administrators are limited by the proprietary management options provided by hardware vendors. "It breaks vendor lock-in," says Hill, so enterprises don't have to wait for a specific vendor to solve an issue.

SDN "reboots" the network management environment by abstracting the control plane from the networking hardware. By adopting an open standard such as OpenFlow for network control, the potential exists to make networks far more vendor-agnostic, while at the same time modernizing the network definition process, improving visibility and increasing network performance without sacrificing the reliability expected of large networking environments. "It's not Excalibur being pulled from a stone," says Hill, "but it's a new way of looking at networking."

With the availability of an OpenFlow 1.0.0-based network controller, Hill says there's potential to take SDN out of the test lab and into production, and already big industry names such as Google are interested. While OpenFlow is only a few years old, "it has really shown some staying power," he says.

When it came to the best startup category, there weren't many companies that truly met the criteria for being a startup, notes Hill, explaining, "V3 Systems stood out because of its innovative take on desktop virtualization." The company's Optimized Desktop Allocation focuses on the availability of virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs).

In a VDI, individual PCs and laptops are replaced by virtual desktops that are streamed to the user from servers in a data center. Groups of identical desktop images, called "pools," are generated from a single master image or a small set of master images and deployed to users.

While server virtualization now dominates the data center, VDI has yet to make as large an impact, notes category judge Andrew Conry-Murray, although it's slowly making its way into the IT landscape. According to a 2011 InformationWeek Virtualization Management survey, 11% of organizations have an extensive VDI deployment, while another 33% have limited use of VDI. One reason VDI hasn't swept away traditional desktops is availability--if a VDI server fails, all the desktops in that pool go down, too.

"Performance has been one of the major problems with virtual desktop solutions," says Hill. "The V3 appliance-based strategy can support up to hundreds of virtual desktops, local networked or cloud, with performance that's been proven to exceed even that of existing local desktops."

The V3 Optimized Desktop Allocation (ODA) product is designed to identify when an appliance fails, and then move any affected virtual desktops to another appliance. The product detects the appliance failure and alerts an administrator, who can then create a new pool or opt to connect to a standby pool. The new ODA product communicates with VMware View to create the pool and provision the users' desktop environments, with the ultimate goal being to minimize end-user disruption. Currently, ODA works only with V3 appliances in a VMware environment.

"Enterprises are looking to virtualization for consolidation and flexibility. VDI can help streamline management because it reduces the number of desktop configurations that IT has to tend to," Conry-Murray says. "However, the failure of a server running multiple virtual desktops can kill productivity, so high availability and failover are essential parts of a VDI deployment."