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How to Virtualize Network Appliances

Server virtualization has become a de facto practice for many IT departments

Server virtualization has become a de facto practice for many IT departments and data centers. Virtualization just makes sense from the cost and administrative standpoints. Even desktop virtualization is making strides in some sectors, offering a level of efficiency and security that’s often eluded the desktop world. One of the areas that hasn’t experienced as much in the way of virtualization, however, has been the network appliance area. While some network appliances need all of the processing capability they can get, there are some appliances that can be consolidated and moved onto a single server.

Part of the problem, of course, is that each network appliance tends to have its own operating system. If all of your network appliances run on the same platform, then consolidation is simply a matter of using intelligent network adapters that allow you do share and distribute the data load between applications. There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions today that will allow you to do just that.

But, when your network appliances are running on different operating systems, virtualization is a bit trickier. Fortunately, there are some options out there.

  • Allowing a virtual machine to control a physical network adapter. When you have this kind of environment set up, you can begin to move your appliance apps to a virtualized environment. In a VMware environment, you use VMware Direct Path to do this. Other VM platforms offer similar functionality. Repeat the process for multiple appliances and you’re good to go. In this configuration, each VM has to have its own network adapter, however, which can be limiting.
  • Shared network adapters. This is another option. If you distribute the data coming in on a network adapter via the virtual machine hypervisor, you can reduce the number of adapters needed. You no longer need one adapter per VM.
  • Logical ports. Logical ports are another option. Intelligent network adapters can identify data flow and help define logical ports. You then map those ports to ports within the virtual machine hypervisor, giving each client VM its proper data path.

Going forward, this last frontier of virtualization is likely to get more attention from the major vendors, and so it will be interesting to see what developments are to come.

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Unitiv, Inc., is a professional provider of enterprise IT solutions. Unitiv delivers its services from its headquarters in Alpharetta, Georgia, USA, and its regional office in Iselin, New Jersey, USA. Unitiv provides a strategic approach to its service delivery, focusing on three core components: People, Products, and Processes. The People to advise and support customers. The Products to design and build solutions. The Processes to govern and manage post-implementation operations.