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NSX technology shifts virtual administrator responsibilities

Network virtualization will change the data center, and virtualization administrators must keep up. Collaboration is essential as silos disappear and technology evolves.

VMware's NSX technology promises a data center revolution, but virtualization administrators must learn how to keep up with the changes, lead collaboration and take advantage of specialized knowledge.

Much of the discussion about VMware NSX and other network virtualization technologies focuses on consequences to the virtualized data center, including distributed firewalls, micro-segmentation and VM portability. Fewer discussions have included the ability of NSX technology to reorganize the data center's staff.

Admins are trying to keep up with NSX technology and its evolving management responsibilities. The virtual admin role originated from the need to manage new virtual environments, but network virtualization's reach is less clear.

NSX technology, and network virtualization broadly, lives at the kernel on each of the hosts. It has to exist at this level to have access to the traffic it needs without affecting the performance of the VMs. This means it's a host extension, and it falls on the virtual admin to ensure installation and functionality. After that's complete, however, the responsibilities can shift to different people.

The functions of firewall and router rules haven't changed just because the environment has moved from physical to virtual, which implies these functions remain the network engineers' responsibilities. The network engineers still have relevant, specialized knowledge, but these rules are often generated automatically based on the VM deployment. Network mapping software, such as vRealize Network Insight, can offer additional complexity. Network engineers and virtual admins can both use these tools to examine the virtual network, ensure functionality and minimize risk before establishing a software-defined network.

Collaboration is the ideal answer, but it can be difficult for two different groups to agree and share workloads.

Though many of these tasks are considered to be part of virtual networking, deployment and automation steps tend to fall to the virtual admin. But passing virtual networking onto the virtual admin wholesale could be disastrous. The skill sets for the two roles are different, and mistakes made with virtual networking can be devastating to an organization.

Collaboration is the ideal answer, but it can be difficult for two different groups to agree and share workloads.

NSX technology demands renewed collaboration

This isn't a popular opinion, but the networking group, not the virtual admin group, should sign off on final network settings and changes. This doesn't refer to simple micro-segmentation deployment or the automatic rules deployed with a new VM. The networking group must check on the IP pools in use, the foundational set of rules applied with a new VM and the default actions that the automation applies to each VM. These aren't settings deployed for each VM; they are the template for the initial rules that the automation deploys.

A small networking change or misconfiguration can have devastating effects. Companies must balance the need for quick deployment and flexibility with guidelines that ensure proper protection and configuration. Virtual networking changes too fast for traditional network management. Virtual networks are set up and destroyed in minutes -- not days or weeks. This is a different time scale than what traditional networking admins are used to, which can create problems if they have sole ownership. Traditional networking management will likely be too slow to react to shifting automation and deployment needs in a virtualized world.

A virtual admin with serious networking skills is best able to approach the shifting responsibilities NSX causes. Network virtualization is the future. The silos between roles are disappearing because the data center itself isn't the same. Virtualization started with storage and now encompasses networking through NSX technology.

The virtual admin role is extending as far as the data center is. Some silos still exist, but evolving needs are folding them into the virtual world a little more each day. The virtual admin will soon need the flexibility to navigate multiple disciplines without forgetting the specialized knowledge in other groups. Virtualization admins and network engineers will need to collaborate to find places in software-defined networking. If they don’t, they will soon be watching the data center evolve past them.

This was last published in July 2018

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