Avaya extends virtual network to campus switches

The goal of extending virtualization from the data centre to enterprise networks will be fleshed out this week with important announcements from two equipment manufacturers.

The first happened Tuesday, when Avaya Inc. said its Virtual Enterprise Network Architecture (VENA), a virtual services fabric which had been in limited availability only for select use in data centres, could now be used in two campus switches.

The second will take place Wednesday when Juniper Networks Inc. holds a press conference about products to support its new two-tier data centre network architecture, dubbed “Project Stratus.”

“This extends the foundation of cloud computing,” Jean Turgeon, global general manager of Avaya’s data solutions, said Tuesday in announcing the broader availability of VENA.

Soon, he added, VENA will be available for campus edge and branch switches.

The architecture helps simplify the deployment of cloud-based services such as unified communications to organizations across a converged infrastructure, Turgeon said, or enable easier provisioning of applications. But he said it can also help secure guest Wi-Fi networks by isolating them from the WLAN used by full-time staff.

VENA has its roots in Nortel Networks’ enterprise switching division, which Avaya bought last year, although the concept was created after the acquisition.

First announced last November as a software enhancement to the former Nortel (now Avaya) VSP 9000, ESR 8600 and ESR 8800 Ethernet switches, VENA is based on the emerging IEEE 802.1aq Shortest Path Bridging standard that allows switches to learn the shortest paths for data through an Ethernet switch fabric.

VENA, Stratus, Cisco Systems Inc.’s FabricPath, Brocade’s VCS and similar technologies from other vendors are ways to virtualize network services – although not all of the approaches are built on an open IEEE standard – to better support virtualization.

When first announced, Avaya held customers back from applying VENA only to data centres, even though the ESR 8600 and 8800 switches could be found in campus networks.

Starting Tuesday, however, VENA would be broadly available when customers download version 7.1 of the two switches’ operating systems.

Among the advantages Turgeon said VENA brings is the ability to take a virtual LAN, or Layer 2 domain, and transport across a campus it to where applications reside.

VENA can also “drastically reduce” mistakes made by networking staff making configuration changes when deploying a new service, he added.

The technology could make it easier for airports to shift airline-specific desktop applications from gate to gate or kiosk to kiosk when there are last-minute changes. It can set up a virtual network so organizations can test IPv6 over a production environment without affecting regular users.

Because VENA automatically discovers all Avaya and partner devices on the network that can take advantage of its capabilities, Turgeon added, is easy for network staff to configure. “Within an hour, someone with a good networking background can easily grasp the concept and configure it and master it,” he said.

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of research and the Yankee Group, said that the extension of VENA to the campus is natural considering virtualization is going all the way to the desktop.

However, he cautioned that while VENA and others use an IEEE standard organizations shouldn’t plan to mix equipment from different manufacturers for a while. Cisco, for example, uses a proprietary standard in FabricPath.              

“Down the road I think it is incumbent on the vendors to make these things interoperable,” he added.

As a newcomer to enterprise networking, Avaya is at a disadvantage compared to others, Kerravala said. On the other hand, sticking to an IEEE standard will be a benefit.

“For Avaya, raising awareness over the next six to 12 months about what they’re doing in networking will be important,” he said.