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5 questions about VMware's new virtual networking platform

Martin Casado, co-founder and CTO of Nicira, pioneer of the OpenFlow, spells it out

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VMware made news this week, announcing that technology it acquired from virtual networking company Nicira last year will be integrated into the company's existing networking technology.

VMware is merging the networking and security product line from vCloud with the Nicira Network Virtualisation Platform (NVP), which it purchased last year for £813 million. The new product family will be dubbed VMware NSX, and is meant to bring virtual networking technology to the masses when it is released in the third quarter of this year.

We sat down with Martin Casado, co-founder and CTO of Nicira, pioneer of the OpenFlow virtual networking movement and currently chief networking architect for VMware, to discuss how NSX is implemented and what customers should expect from it. For a deeper dive into VMware NSX's components, check out the company's blog post on the topic here.

NW: What's the architecture of NSX?

Casado: NSX sits on the edge of the network and runs either in the hypervisor or in top-of-rack switches, to virtualize the network. It exposes a virtual network to virtual machines (VMs) that looks just like a physical network, but it can be built and managed dynamically. It can grow and shrink; snapshots and copies can be made. This is really about having a new virtual networking that sits on the same physical infrastructure you already have. The goal is to do anything that you do with a VM with the network.

How will customers deploy this?

There are generally two ways customers like to consume new technology: Some like things tightly integrated, where it's all VMware technology end-to-end. For those customers, NSX will be a layer within a bundle, and it will be a seamless upgrade for what they're now running. If you're a vCloud Director or existing Nicira customer, this would be a seamless upgrade to those platforms to expose this new functionality.

The second common way new technology is adopted is through independent pieces all configured together by customers, almost like Lego building blocks. In these deployments, NSX will be a component in this system. Even if you're not running VMware, let's say you're using OpenStack or NVP from Nicira, NSX would be an upgrade into that system allowing virtual networking capabilities.

So can all my existing Cisco or other networking gear works with this?

Just like with VMware's ESX hypervisor, it's not like you're buying new hardware or that this obviates hardware. You install this on your existing networking gear, your existing hardware gear. It's a non-disruptive deployment to the hardware, so you can use whatever gear you want. What it is disrupting is the provisioning, and that's where it adds immediate value. It will require some new bits, like a cluster controller and some new software, but this should be a seamless upgrade for most customers.

What advantages does a customer get with virtual networking?

The primary benefit is the time it takes for you to do anything you want to do on the networking side. Virtual networking drastically reduces the provisioning time of network resources. In an age where IT lives and dies by the time it takes to get things done, that's an advantage. The second is the operational overhead; easier deployment of resources reduces the chances of mistakes. And third, there is a capital element here; now customers have a choice of what networking gear they want to deploy, which is something many customers don't have today.

What about the higher-level networking stuff -- the ELBs, firewalls, etc.?

One area we really hope to differentiate on is VMware's long history of being a partner-focused company. We're hoping any existing Layer 4-7 device would be available in this new world. We think we're adding a lot of value to the networking side, and we're hoping to integrate existing network components in with that. VMware will have some load balancers and VM provisioning, but we'll also work with partners to offer choices to customers.


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