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This syndicated post originally appeared at Zeus Kerravala's blog.

I’m not sure there’s a city that’s more synonymous with fun than New Orleans. The home of Mardi Gras, several Super Bowls, Bourbon Street and Jazz Festivals is always a great place to visit if you’re looking to have some great entertainment. Well, there’s an event that tops all of them for fun, and that’s Microsoft’s North American Tech Ed event.

Tech Ed is the event to go to if you’re a Microsoft professional or developer. It’s the most fun and happening place if you’re looking to learn about the latest and greatest in the world of Microsoft. Two of the hotter areas of interest for the Microsoft professional today are the cloud and virtualization. At this year’s Tech Ed, Application Deliver Controller vendor F5 is demonstrating new features that can bridge the gap between the physical, virtual and cloud environments.

Microsoft’s virtualization software, Hyper-V, is rapidly gaining traction and is a serious threat to VMware’s dominance. At the conference, F5 will be showcasing its upcoming appliance-based gateway with support for network virtualization using generic routing encapsulation (NVGRE). For those who aren’t familiar with NVGRE, it’s a proposed standard that has been jointly submitted to the IETF by a handful of companies, including Microsoft. The standard enables the creation of virtual networks; similar to VLANs, but the total umber of virtual networks can exceed the 4,094 limited defined by the IEEE 802.1Q VLAN specification.

Additionally, when a virtual machine is moved from one physical server to another, network managers must reconfigure the network to extend the VLAN to the other physical server to keep the move transparent to the executing application. With traditional VLANs, this must be done manually, which leads to human errors. With NVGRE, the spec calls for a 24-bit tenant network identifier (TNI) to be created. Each TNI is then associated with a single virtual network.

The new F5 solution will be integrated into Microsoft Systems Center 2012 Virtual Machine Manager and will dynamically serve as a bridge between the virtualized and non-virtualized environments. The dynamic creation of the virtual network paths is done without the time-consuming, error-prone, manual tasks. By having the NVGRE paths invoked and terminated on an F5 appliance, customers can use the rich ADC feature set across their traditional and virtual environments.

In addition to the NVGRE functionality, F5 has developed a solution to work in conjunction with the Azure cloud platform. F5’s Big-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) can create an IPSec-encrypted tunnel between a corporate data center and the Azure cloud. This should alleviate some of the security concerns many organizations have with using the public cloud.

The use of virtual networking to complement advanced server virtualization can appear to be complicated and can create a number of blind spots if provisioned over the top of the network. By integrating the functionality into a product like F5’s Big-IP, IT organizations can enjoy the benefits of network virtualization but have the visibility required to manage the virtual and physical environments.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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