According to research presented by Stephen Prentice, general vice-president of hardware research for Gartner, companies could make massive savings by using 'virtualised' networking in favour of a selection of hardware devices.
"As the price of hardware has fallen, it has encouraged us to invest in more hardware," said Prentice. "But the cost of managing devices is unbearable and we need something to sort it out. Virtualisation is a step towards that -- it's flexible and has an automated environment -- a primary request for a complete IT infrastructure. The challenge is in building it."
Network virtualisation, often called utility computing, or as Gartner calls it 'real-time infrastructure', is the consolidation of hardware devices in a logical environment. For example, one virtual network device could take an image of a physical network rack and make a digital version of it, keeping all the devices separate in its memory.
Prentice added that companies would move towards this approach because it would give them more flexibility and the option to make real-time changes, and also lower the cost of managing multiple devices.
"The more you utilise and consolidate a service, you make a saving," said Prentice. "If you have fewer boxes to manage, you make a saving. If you combine that with storage, the cost savings steadily rise."
Managed services company Savvis UK has recently started to use Inkra's virtualised security switch. When the US arm of the firm began piloting the technology, it said, its operational costs fell from $2m to $164,000 -- a saving of more than 90 percent.
"If any part of the environment goes wrong when you have lots of devices, you have a failure for the customer," said Richard Warley, managing director for Savvis. "You end up with a spaghetti soup of cables. And as a service provider, we live by SLAs [service level agreements]."
"Now we can provide services of much lower costs. We could charge 10 percent of what we did and still be doing well. But we do it at 50 percent and that's still cheap."
Savvis rolled out the Inkra 4000, a product that consolidates load balancing, firewalls, SSL VPN and intrusion protection, Warley added.
Having one device could perhaps be seen as a security problem as hackers would only have to break one device, but Warley insisted that protecting one product was easier than protecting many.
Savvis has more than 2,000 employees and 24 data centres around the world.