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Don’t Get All Caught Up In The Assumptions Surrounding Network Overlay

By Jeffrey Lim, Technical Marketing Engineer Manager-Data Center, HP Networking


Jeffrey LimIt’s hard to miss the flood of Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and cloud related marketing announcements being released. While many are enamored with the promise of virtualized networks, we tend to miss the important part of the network when we’re looking at all of the marketing induced glitz—which is the underlay.


Gartner’s 2014 Magic Quadrant for Data Center Network Infrastructure reinforces this exact point that

“the overlay is still fully dependent on a physical underlay network.”


So while data center networks are evolving, and network overlays will certainly become a part of future data centers. No matter how great the overlay technology is, if there isn’t coordination, visibility and integration between the virtual and physical networks – data center IT professionals may be headed for a rude awakening.


Network overlays tend to assume the underlying network is working perfectly. That is hardly the case. More importantly, network overlays lack visibility of the details and the conditions of the infrastructure. The correct network virtualization solutions must have visibility to the network overlay, and have the means to monitor the health of the network and respond accordingly. Without the right information and the ability to make use of it, overlay networks would fail to properly adapt to networks conditions and satisfy customers’ business requirements.


So how do you create an underlay that will help achieve the business goals of today while providing features and capabilities to help with the transition down the road? Consider these points.


Simplicity - simplicity often gets misinterpreted for meaning low end or lack of features. What it should mean is how easily a feature or technology can be deployed. Can it help me build a more resilient network?


Agility - defined by Webster is “the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness.” We all want our networks to be nimble based on the curveballs that the business can throw at us. Will deploying that new application change the traffic flows on the underlay or how will the network deal with dynamic workloads?


Manageability - We tend to focus on how we are going to deploy a new technology but forget that once installed, there’s the actual management of the overlay and underlay networks. If the overlay is creating tunnels over the network do I lose visibility of the traffic? Where do I start troubling shooting when there’s a problem the overlay or underlay?


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Virtual/physical networking MUST HAVES;

  • Unify virtual and physical devices and bridge virtual and physical networks
  • Simplify network lifecycle management and deploy additional bandwidth rapidly
  • End-to-end visibility, rapid root-cause analysis and troubleshooting

 The data center network architecture is constantly evolving. Legacy 3-tiered architectures have been made less effective by more efficient 2-tier designs and Spine-Leaf architectures. Even these new efficient approaches are coming under fire with overlay networks. In the end, the underlay network should be reliable, provide low latency and offer high bandwidth.


The switches deployed today should have the features needed to deploy spine leaf architectures (L2 or L3). They should also have networking protocols such as VXLAN/NVGRE that enable network overlays. Switches should also have SDN capabilities and Openflow so that when the business throws you a curveball you’re able to hit a grand slam.


To learn more about how HP can help you build a better data center network join us at HP Discover Las Vegas (June 10-12, 2014) to be among the first to see the latest advancements in Data Center Network Virtualization and Software-defined Networking.


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About the Author

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Madrid, Spain
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