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Going virtual: NetSocket turns to software to spot network problems

Each month, it seems, the powers that be in networking are zapping a networking component, making it go up in smoke and transforming it into software. The magic continued Monday with NetSocket, a company that sells a box for detecting problems with unified communications. It’s coming out with a version of the product that can run on commodity servers, as well as a host of other software-defined networking (SDN) elements.

NetSocket, based in Plano, Texas, already knows how to play nicely with gear from a variety of network vendors, and it’s bringing that capability to software, along with the ability to set up networking models with its own versions of virtualized routers and firewalls. And the company could be in a position to attract a following because the new software is designed to spot and automatically heal network problems arising in the course of VoIP and videoconferencing services.

For now, the software is available for deployment on top of the Microsoft (s msft) Hyper-V hypervisor. “It has to do with believing the Microsoft environment has really been underserved by other vendors out there,” said Tricia Hosek, NetSocket’s vice president of products and marketing. Support for other hypervisors, like VMware’s ESX, will come in the fourth quarter, along with tie-ins for OpenStack and the Microsoft System Center, she said.

Netsocket architecture

Rather than run its vNetCommander application for orchestrating, configuring and provisioning networks and its vNetOptimizer application — the virtualized version of the currently available Cloud Experience Manager box and software — on top of OpenFlow, these all function atop a controller that NetSocket built in-house called vFlow.

OpenFlow “doesn’t allow you to to put as much intelligence onto the switch layer that allows you to scale to really large-scale networks,” Hosek said. It’s an interesting choice, one that happens to align with Juniper, (s jnpr) at least as far as its forthcoming JunosV Contrail controller.

Still, in the spirit of being able to configure all networking gear, the company will be able to communicate with OpenFlow-enabled physical switches, Hosek said.

Here’s the twist: NetSocket recognizes that the SDN world is in a state of upheaval with the OpenDaylight Project in full swing. Developers from a bunch of companies have been merging code bases to build a state-of-the-art controller, a virtual tenant network and other features that people can then build interesting applications on top of. And so much of the NetSocket software — the controller, virtual routers, virtual firewalls and a small-scale version of the vNet Commander provisioning application — is free, at least initially. In the fourth quarter NetSocket will ship a premium version of the vNet Commander for lager implementations as well as the virtual version of its gear, which will not be free either.

Free or not, virtualizing networking functions is indeed a thing. ConteXtream, Mellanox (s mlnx) and Riverbed have done this as well, PLUMgrid wants to enable it, and Brocade (s brcd) is going down this road, too.

Rather than get disrupted by some startup writing an application that could do what NetSocket can with fancy gear, the company is getting out in front of any of that business with a suite of products and more to come. Don’t be surprised to see other specialized network gear makers following the same playbook.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Salim Fadhley.