Infoblox eases private cloud network management

Infoblox is offering an appliance-based solution to automate network address provisioning in private clouds

From the outside, network address managment, or DDI (DNS, DHCP, and IP address management), seems like it ought to be a solved problem. Especially for private cloud infrastructure.

But Infoblox, maker of a DDI solution for private clouds, claims the problem isn't as trivial as it might seem and that even big private cloud solutions like OpenStack don't have the answers, either.

Infoblox is preparing to offer a series of hardware or virtual appliances -- referred to generally as InfoBlox DDI -- that automate how IPs and DNS are provisioned for VMs. The system is designed to work with multiple private cloud vendors: VMware, Microsoft, HP, Cisco, and others. Infoblox claims it can provide this automation in ways that work across multiple sites, both physical and virtual, that come in a package that's easy to digest and manage, and that are capable of handling enterprise workloads.

If all this sounds like it ought to be a non-issue for any well-managed private cloud infrastructure, Arya Barirani, vice president of product marketing for Infoblox, believes that is far from the case.

"DNS and IP management remain largely unaddressed by open source vendors [e.g. OpenStack]," he said, "and even a company like Cisco does not have an automation around this kind of management." (Cisco does have a DDI product of its own, Cisco Prime Network Registrar, but it isn't widely used, and some of its core functionality comes via an OEM partnership with another company.)

From what Barirani has seen, the private cloud companies were focused more on automating hypervisors and provisioning of servers. Little attention was being paid to automating DDI in private clouds, something Infoblox sensed could be done better.

Barirani used the metaphor of a hotel to describe what Infoblox is intended to do. "People come into the hotel, and you give them the services they need in an expeditious and efficient manner," he said. "From one central place, you want the hotel manager to deploy all the services -- the room key, fresh towels, the phone service, all as soon as they walk in. And when they leave, you'll want to turn all that over, and want to do it in a way that give you visibility into how many residents there are in the hotel -- and also not do things like give the same room key to two people."

With DDI, the problems of central management are thornier than just providing extra soap and pillows. A campus-wide network, for instance, might include VMs in remote data centers or have many local VMs spun up and spun down on demand.

If all this sounds like a variant on software-defined networking, Barirani actually doesn't think SDN as it currently stands does much in the way of address management for IPs. In fact, Barirani is wary of using SDN describe what Infoblox does at all. "SDN is more about endpoints," he said, "and while private clouds may use SDN, it doesn't solve this particular issue." Rather, Infoblox's solutions are meant to be deployed along with existing SDN products, something Barirani believes the company can find any number of partnership opportunities around.

So what's stopping any of the existing private cloud outfits from solving this problem? Or, more to the point, why haven't they solved it yet?

Barirani's answer was blunt: "It's hard. Building resilient, redundant, automate services with this kind of integration is not something vendors or open source providers can do. The reason people haven't done it is because we live in this space, and a lot of other vendors don't focus." He was also skeptical of how well any one vendor could address the needs of a customer that uses products from multiple vendors.

Having a tight focus on the problem does seem crucial. When Gartner recently published its "Worldwide DDI Market Update," with Infoblox in the running, the only company listed that might be recognizable outside of the DDI field was Alcatel-Lucent. But Gartner also noted, in a separate comparison report of the various DDI products, that "some Infoblox customers report frustration with Infoblox licensing costs and proposed migration plans."

There is also some room to be skeptical of how well OpenStack addresses DDI. OpenStack's Neutron networking component can, in theory, provide IP address management functionality, but only via a framework with APIs to drive it rather than as a fully-baked solution. What's more, Barirani noted that Infoblox DDI could in theorybecome managed by the Infoblox family in the future.

If OpenStack does in time feature a more aggressive DDI solution, it would serve as that much more evidence of how open source can bring solutions to market faster than a proprietary approach -- and one with potentially fewer logistical and technical pitfalls. On the other hand, if Infoblox adds OpenStack to its arsenal of managed private clouds in a way that's worth emulating, that might well give OpenStack's contributors a model to follow.

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