VMware’s NSX Is an Opportunity to Innovate, Not a Declaration of War

Mike Fratto

Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • VMware’s NSX is not a declaration of war on any networking vendor.  It is much more cooperative than competitive.
  • Network vendors need to add value on top of NSX to remain relevant.  Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to add value.

VMware’s NSX is a network virtualization platform that provides a number of benefits for interconnecting virtual machines to other virtual or physical resources.  The virtual network is independent from the underlying network; the virtual network is programmable and responds quickly to VM changes; and new physical or virtual services can be inserted or removed easily for scaling in/out or adding new services.  NSX is a technology that enables new capabilities and it is not a declaration of war as some commenters have excitedly said.  Network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) still have plenty of room to innovate and provide value outside of virtual networking.

NSX embodies a critical aspect of a software-defined network: modularity.  For any service module, IT should be able to replace the product seamlessly.  For example, IT should be able to swap (or add) any NSX gateway with any other NSX gateway from a different vendor and have it just work.  NSX removes dependencies on particular vendor products and allows IT to find the best products that fit.  You may really like Arista’s network applications or prefer Brocade’s VCS fabric.  Choose either or both.  NSX lets IT use what is best for them while posing little disruption.

For NEMs, NSX is an integration framework.  It is a way to support VMware’s server and storage networking virtualization seamlessly, rather than NEMs having to write their own integration with VMware’s various APIs.  Networking vendors have already integrated with VMware server virtualization products – sometimes with the hypervisor, sometimes with vCenter – but the integration was not particularly robust and created dependencies.  Now NEMs can let NSX configure network ports and let the physical network fabric ensure the packets get to the right destination.  Each side plays to its own strengths; VMware connects workflows and the network delivers packets.

VMware is following a similar strategy with networking that it followed with storage; VMware will provide its own networking products with unique capabilities, but NSX will also integrate with other networking products which join other services and physical resources together.  For example, NSX will have a virtual firewall built in or customers can opt to use a third-party firewall that has integrated with NSX.  As long as the third-party firewall can perform the tasks required, the actual firewall technology used to control network access is immaterial to NSX.

VMware’s NSX strategy is much more cooperative than competitive.  NSX takes away some functions from the network, such as VM-to-VM connectivity, and puts them into an NSX network.  The physical network is responsible for providing a reliable and responsive network which interconnects NSX nodes.  VMware cannot afford to alienate its ecosystem and I do not think it has now.  Either NEMs will figure out how they can provide value on top of network virtualization or they won’t, but that is not VMware’s doing.

About Mike Fratto
Mike is a senior analyst on the Business Technology and Software team covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. He has extensive experience reviewing and writing about enterprise remote access, security, and network infrastructure products.

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