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Virtualising the Wide Area Network

Mission-critical applications such as high-frequency trading engines demand the lowest latency and highest availability—features typically provided by optical networks or wavelength services. In contrast, the latency and availability demands posed by corporate email programs, for example, are much lower and often satisfied with simple Ethernet or IP services.

Most firms use a range of services and networking options which offer opportunities to improve efficiency. The creation of a single logical networking resource from a collection of disparate physical implementations and services promises cost savings similar to the significant savings that result from server virtualisation. A number of virtualized networks, each encompassing a range of application-specific services, may be created to partition this single logical resource for management purposes, address different needs across the organization, and allow accurate resource allocation in a pay-per-use model based on actual needs. Likewise, applications could be extended to leverage on-demand resources in the cloud.

Creating a more dynamic, flexible, and scalable network results in better utilisation of networking resources, cost savings, and higher performance. Premium connections—often deployed to accommodate peak demands from trading engines or other mission-critical functions—can carry other corporate traffic when otherwise idle. Networking resources may be reallocated outside the trading windows for other functions such as backup, mark-to-market computations, and regulatory recordings. Conversely, lower-performance connections or services may enhance the overall availability of the application by serving as tertiary connection options for mission-critical applications in the rare case when both primary and secondary paths are compromised.

In addition to the benefits discussed above, a fully virtualised network infrastructure offers a range of operational benefits, such as allowing competitive bidding of certain types of underlying services—supporting hitless migration to a new, more attractive managed service—and a greatly improved ability to migrate databases and applications during data center moves or consolidations.

A single logical networking resource partitioned into virtual networks and service groupings offers significant management advantages, allowing accurate matching of the quality of service to the specific requirements of each application. Connection profiles may be created according to a number of characteristics, including such features as availability, latency, and whether the application is lossless or deterministic. This capability eases connection management and potentially facilitates automated connection provisioning initiated by the application.

Virtualisation is a popular technology for making server and storage environments more dynamic, flexible, and scalable while optimizing return on investment. Networking infrastructures can utilize a similar approach, whether the infrastructures rely on managed services, private optical networks, or a combination of the two. Such virtualised networking solutions offer a more dynamic, flexible, and scalable infrastructure without sacrificing required performance characteristics such as high-availability and lossless, deterministic connectivity.

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