Nortel Pitches Networks Revamp for Virtualization

We generally think of virtualization in terms of applications and servers. Yet the network is a key part of the mix, though it’s often overlooked in what can be a critical oversight.

After all, those virtualized servers and applications still need to connect to users over networking hardware that may not necessarily be optimized for virtualization.

That’s where Nortel Networks is aiming to bridge the gap, with its new Virtual Services Switch (VSS) 5000 — optimized for delivering network virtualization services.

The new hardware platform comes amid further indications of positive prospects ahead for the technology, with virtualization vendor VMware most recently reporting record revenues.

With virtualization on the rise, datacenters are now looking to reap associated benefits in their networking infrastructure. As the thinking goes, adding network hardware virtualization could help datacenters recognize even further consolidation and efficiency gains from the booming technology.

“We’re trying to extend virtualization and add it to the network,” Rami Rammaha, a product marketing manager at Nortel, told “What we’ve done is consolidated multiple functions for dealing with security, application availability and performance and put it into a single box. And then we’ve virtualized services to serve multiple customers.”

Rammaha said that with the VSS 5000, a network administrator could create a virtual rack and allocate virtual services on it to serve multiple users or groups.

“The ability to slice up the device and make it look like multiple services on the fly, that enables what we call ‘datacenter as a service,'” Rammaha said. “You can now provision services in minutes, instead of days or weeks.”

Nortel is also providing an SDK for third-party developers that will enable them to create new features that can run on top of the VSS 5000.

The Nortel switch is powered by Nortel’s own enhanced version of Linux, which it said is a key part of enabling the platform’s extensibility.

“We have invested in the operating system to make it modular and flexible so we’re not limited to developing functions from our side only,” Rammaha said.

The basic concept of expanding virtualization on to network hardware — the idea behind the VSS 5000 — is not a new concept, with VLAN virtual LANs being a standard networking concept for the past decade. A VLAN allows a network administrator to create a virtual LAN on an existing network.

Where the VSS differs is that it is providing what appears to be a physically different network.

“We’re truly slicing up and physically creating a secure wall between different services,” Rammaha said. “So instead of buying multiple devices, now customers can share the same box and truly isolate traffic between different customers or user groups. This provides complete isolation with a secure wall among the different virtual racks.”

In addition, Rammaha noted that Nortel’s Ethernet Routing Services (ERS) 8600 switch can be paired with the VSS 5000 as part of a complete network virtualization solution. The ERS 8600 enables physical switches to be combined to create a virtual switch that offers the combined capacity to network users.

Networking industry goliath Cisco rolled out a similar offering last year. The Cisco Catalyst 6500 Virtual Switching System (VSS) 1440 enables Cisco users to combine multiple Catalyst 6500 switches to provide as much as 1.44 terabits per second (Tbps).

Nortel also said its solution has been validated by VMware, the leader in server virtualization. The two companies have a multi-pronged relationship that in the most recent case involved VMware approving Nortel’s Ethernet routing switching solutions in connection with its own offerings.

In addition to receiving VMware’s thumbs-up for its Ethernet routing switches and VSS, the two are working on a third effort — though Rammaha declined to provide much detail.

“I can’t say too much about it, but we have other development in terms of really enhancing the server virtualization availability and being able to load-balance traffic based on VMware applications,” he said.

While efforts like those of Nortel are helping datacenters realize even more benefits from virtualization, major obstacles still remain before the technology becomes truly widespread.

“One of the challenges is that as you get into virtualization, a lot has to do with training and making IT people aware of how it will really help them,” Rammaha said. “Whether it’s Nortel or someone else, the training is a major challenge to get people to understand how virtualization can help them to transform their network.”

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