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Where does WAN acceleration by virtual machine actually get us?

A tour of the estate

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Opinion NetEx is claiming its virtual machine-based WAN acceleration product, HyperIP, supports more software applications than any other similar product. Software like this is taking us towards a virtual mainframe environment.

NetEx's VM-based WAN acceleration converges WAN optimisation and servers. It also complicates the server software estate.

Data acceleration across a wide area network is mostly carried out these days by appliances that sit on the IP link and reduce TCP/IP chatter while also reducing the amount of data sent across the wire. NetEx, Riverbed and Silver Peak all have boxes and technologies that do this.

One NetEx product is NetEx/IP. Like the other two technologies it is software running in an embedded server. NetEx took the software functionality and launched it in October 2003 as HyperIP software that could run on a Linux/X86 server. HyperIP was packaged as a VMware virtual machine (VM) in the first quarter of last year.

The latest NetEx announcement says that the VM version of HyperIP works with more third-party apps than anyone else in the WAN optimising game. Supported apps include ones from all the main providers of disaster recovery, data migration and replication software, such as Dell/EqualLogic, EMC, including Data Domain, FalconStor, Hewlett-Packard/LeftHand, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, Microsoft, Network Appliance and lots of others.

NetEx says: "Virtualizing applications for VMware eliminates the need for specialized appliances."

So let's envisage a set of physical servers that have been virtualised and run an application software estate. Whenever these apps need to squirt data across a WAN they set up a connection and pass it through the network infrastructure to the far end of the link. Unbeknownst to them a stealthy interloping appliance would squat on the link and massage their data communications so the far end receiver got the data quicker and with less network bandwidth required.

The data centre management structure for this was, in theory, simple. Application people looked after the apps, server people the servers, networking people looked after the networking while storage people looked after the storage. These boundaries are blurring. The NetEx HyperIP VM collapses a network appliance's functionality into the VMware server estate.

HP's Left Hand Networks VSA product runs a SAN storage application as a VM. So too does DataCore's Virtual SAN Appliance software. The storage array controller functionality becomes, like the HyperIP functionality, just another system app in the VMware server universe. Cisco has developed a software Ethernet switch that runs as a VM. Here are three examples of previously separate networking and storage technologies, running on their own dedicated hardware, that have their software functionality extracted and turned into VMs.

In the VMware universe everything is an app. We are seeing suppliers thinking that, where their product has software functionality running on a dedicated server, X86 hardware can do it faster and cheaper than dedicated hardware, unless that is you use specially developed ASICs and FPGA chips to accelerate past current X86 hardware limits; BlueArc and its filers for example.

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